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I spend a lot of my time thinking about the conversational product space, working with several teams building conversational products, talking with tech leaders, and researching the bot landscape.
And yet, when an investor asked me what my favorite consumer use case in the bot space is, I could not come up with a single one I thought would go mainstream soon.
While I struggled to answer that question, I said enterprise use cases are likely to go mainstream in the conversational products space before consumer use cases do. While I am not skeptical of the potential of consumer-facing bots, I think there will be mass adoption of bots by enterprises sooner than we think. Unlike in the consumer space, where a lot of the bot rush is driven by the wrong reasons and mindset, this shift to bots in enterprise space is driven by necessity and the desire for increasing productivity at workplaces.
In the consumer space, the friction for instilling the mental model for using bots is much higher. This is mainly because we have amazing mobile apps with great user experiences. In the enterprise space, even in 2016, there are only a handful of applications that have successfully transitioned to the mobile world with a great user experience.
Most of the enterprise software used today by giant corporations is bloated and misaligned with the expectations of people who use them daily. On one hand, consumer software is becoming increasingly intuitive, simple and convenient. On the other hand, enterprise software is increasingly associated with bloat, slow development cycles, customer lock-ins, and vendor dependency.
That being said, user-centric and communication-based workplace products like Slack, Quip, Mixmax, and Figma are big steps in the direction of consumerization of enterprise software. These tools help employees do their jobs faster and better. Bots, which fundamentally stand for automation, will supplement and enhance the collaborative and communication-centric tools to increase productivity at workplaces by orders of magnitude.
Most knowledge workers spend a lot of their time doing work they were weren’t specifically hired to do. They spend time finding answers, locating files, doing research, scheduling meetings, coordinating with colleagues, and other low-priority tasks. While all these tasks are important to work, they do not and should not form the core of the daily work of knowledge workers.
Bots could automate a lot of mundane tasks, weed out inefficiencies, augment human abilities, and help employees focus on what really matters for accomplishing their goals and enhancing job satisfaction.
Let’s look at some examples of bots that are doing just that:
- Assistants like x.ai and Clara reduce the headache of scheduling meetings. Zoom, a multi-platform assistant, takes it further by aspiring to become a full-fledged support mechanism for employees regardless of their positions in the organizational hierarchy.
- Slackbots like CareerLark, Lattice, and Growbot aspire to automate feedback loops, check-ins, and work recognition for instilling an enhanced sense of camaraderie and collaboration among teams.
- We also now have data-centric bot products like Statsbot and Birdly bringing information layers from data-gathering tools like Google Analytics, MixPanel, and Salesforce to team communications in Slack. They enable people to have quick access to data when they are making decisions in real time.
- While a large proportion of enterprise bots today focus on teams, we are now seeing conversational products like TryWarren and And Co that aim at becoming business support systems for freelancers.
The abovementioned products are all bot-first products. But we are also seeing an emergence of bot extensions of existing enterprise software. Any enterprise software that is predicated on domain-specific textual inputs is low-hanging fruit for potentially becoming a bot or having an extension on a communications platform. Who really likes using those bloated CRM systems? Almost no one feels satisfied and accomplished after putting themselves through that process of data entry.
Slack seems to be the go-to platform for building both bot-first products and bot extensions of existing software, supported by their explosive growth, developer-friendly nature and active fund. But I believe we will see a few domain-specific, collaborative, team-based products becoming platforms for bot-building in the future. As much as we would love to get to inbox zero, I think we will see more and more bot innovations on top of emails. I think this is more likely to happen in highly regulated industries like law and finance.
I think we are getting closer to mass adoption of enterprise bots growing at a faster rate than consumer bots. Bots are very likely to take the logic of most of the productivity tools and enterprise software; make them better, faster, and personalized; and turn the bloated software into simple, automated workflows that will help get things done without expecting humans to do heavy lifting.
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