Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Key Trends in Chatbots and RPA

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Over the last several months, I have been asking CIOs about the technology topics they wanted to explore in greater detail. One topic that scored high on most CIOs list was Chatbots and RPA.

The resulting discussion should be of interest to technology leaders of all stripes because it represents innovation that can take place today.

What Role do Chatbots or RPA Play in Digital Transformation?

CIO David Seidl kept pulling apart the two technologies. He said that “these are two somewhat different areas. Chatbots provide or access information and RPA is for processes and procedures. Both have a role in my mind, but RPA success really requires assessing and fixing processes instead of just using old processes. Meanwhile, chatbots are seeing a lot of adoption where information already exists for which the results can be exposed via the chatbot. This means the real work is about putting information to use.

He continued: This opens up a conversation about the different ways of relating to technology and different uses/needs for ways for getting answers. There’s a whole generation of folks who are used to saying hey Alexa/Siri/Google, what is the answer to X and having that answer provided who have had a completely different way of interfacing with the world, and they’re coming to colleges and businesses soon.”

While agreeing with the above technology distinctions, CIO Stephen diFilipo, “suggests that both technologies can be used to replace repetitious tasks. Optimally, they create new models for digital experience including customer experience, employee experience, and beyond. Both incorporate today varying aspects of AI and machine learning.”

Other CIOs, however, see a bit less potential in particular for RPA. CIO Martin Davis suggests that “RPA is really more of a tool for digital optimization than for digital transformation. If you have properly digitally transformed your need for RPA should be minimized. Chatbots, however, when done right provide a scalable way to provide customer service and avoid the customer being put on hold for hours.”

CIO Milos Topics agrees with Davis and suggests, “most RPAs today is not AI powered or enabled.” On chatbots, CIO Deb Gildersleeve suggests today “they are still pretty tactical in nature and are best suited for the level 1 questions. In my experience, they are still pretty frustrating for the higher order questions.”

Chatbots or RPA as a Business Case Prover for AI and Machine Learning?

Seidl believes this is “only in the broadest sense. We label so many things AI and machine learning that yes…sure, in the marketing sense. But I’m not sure that many are AI, and that quite a few are mostly matching search terms which isn’t really AI or Machine Learning (ML). What you do with the data to get better counts! This makes me want a Turing Scale which rates how smart the BOT/AI/ML is, with some measures of things like natural language processing, personalization, data analysis, false positive/negative, and user response satisfaction.”

Davis says again here that “the two again are very different tools. Chatbots perhaps, RPA no, as a business case prover for AI /ML. I believe RPA is just intelligent scripting, chatbots can be much more if they are done right.” Seidl adds that “it gets interesting to me, because maturity and algorithmic bias might go hand in hand sometimes. I think about the genetic algorithms that we were all fascinated by a few years ago and how sometimes you’d ended up with dead end rather than technology that worked.”

CIO Paige Francis conclude by saying, “I don’t see either as being super business case prover. They are currently look like technology for technology’s sake, so I am hoping for improvement.”

Most Compelling Use Cases

Davis says, “I’m going with the obvious ones, chatbot for customer service and RPA for non-value add data manipulation.” More specifically, Topic says, “the best use cases will be in HR, IT, and Finance.”

diFilipo, however, see “impacts in higher education for things like real time student advising. “This would require a complex set of rules and access to multiple data sets with a deep understanding of the individual student. Another area is real time learning pathways. The learning pathways would adjust in near real time based upon a number of complex and disconnected data points.”

Francis, meanwhile, expressed interest “in IT service/support, HR, and student success.” Seidl as well sees application “in higher education, enrollment management and student success as well as auxiliaries like food service, recreation sports, and others are also interesting beyond the usual support desk type things.”

Relationship of Chatbots or RPA to Low Code?

Topics said that “currently, it is all over the place. In some instances, there are connections or relationships, while at others there are none whatsoever. They are not terms or concepts that always will go together.”

Davis, however, suggests “you could argue that RPA and Chatbots are specialist forms of low code. Gildersleeve agrees and says, “it depends upon the low code platform. They can work together with RPAs and feeding low code apps from larger systems. Or low-code may be the better fit than an RPA when further manipulation of data is needed.”

Ensuring Chatbots Improve Rather Than Degrade CX and EX?

Seidl says that it is essential that CIOs “listen to their customers. You need to apply the feedback you receive. As well, you need to meet customers where they are as much as you can. You should look for pain points and be willing to not use a tool or use more of the tool as needed.”

Davis agrees and says, “review the end results, for example, how many calls end with customer asking to speak to a person or leave the customer happy. Were they able to quickly get the answers they needed? Make sure that you talk to customers.” Looking further forward, Topics suggests once they become truly AI, not just Natural Language

Processing BOTs, this will become much more achievable. Listening to input, learning across other services, and integrating with them and working across various devices and various input types.”

Parting remarks

It seems clear that Chatbots and RPA can play a role in the journey to digital transformation. They are part of the tool kit along with low code/no code. And when they are done right, chatbots offer the potential for improved CX and EX. The question for CIOs, however, are they ready to drive real business outcomes?


Myles Suer is the Head, Global Enterprise Marketing at Boomi. He is also facilitator of the #CIOChat, and is the #1 influencer of CIOs according to LeadTails. He is a top 100 digital influencer. Among other career highlights, he has led a data and analytics organization.

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