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Spark Integration Services (The Bots Are Coming)

What Are Bots? Chat bots have been around since the ‘early days’ of the Internet. I remember using them in mIRC, ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger in the late 90’s in my high school days. Admittedly, I had no vision about their future potential and...

by Jeremy Combs, Collaboration Team Lead, Wednesday, 1 Jun 2016

What Are Bots?
Chat bots have been around since the ‘early days’ of the Internet.  I remember using them in mIRC, ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger in the late 90’s in my high school days.  Admittedly, I had no vision about their future potential and just thought they were cool. At the time, I was more interested in the network than the bots.

IoT and Artificial Intelligence
I believe, what returned chat bots to the headlines is the Internet of Things (“IoT”), the evolution of Enterprise Chat, thanks to companies such as Slack and WeChat, and improvements to Artificial Intelligence (“AI”). Facebook and Microsoft have both introduced bot support into their platforms, with Cisco going further and offering a $150 Million Cisco Spark Innovation Fund to help developers integrate their services into the Spark platform. 

The current evolution within IoT and Artificial Intelligence creates significant opportunities for many businesses.  Today, we see people experimenting with AI and chat bots.  There’s even one that leverages IBM’s Watson to analyze and imitate your responses to friends.  Businesses are actively looking to use the combination of AI and IoT to take their business to the next level, for example wearables that monitor our health and report critical findings to our doctors.

Generational Communication Trends
From a personal perspective, I am a borderline “Generation X” and “Millennial”, but my sister (we are separated by several years), is definitely a Millennial. Why am I borderline?  There are times that I still find myself preferring a phone call over a text conversation.  My sister, I’m convinced, will only talk on the phone if it’s work-related or an emergency. For example, when I call her, she’ll ignore my call, however, if I immediately text her, I’ll get a prompt response.  I am finding this preference increasingly common amongst my co-workers and friends. 

Why is this important?  Trying to communicate with a growing generation that does not like talking on the phone is a problem businesses are facing today.  Reporting power outages, changing flight information and scheduling automotive services previously required a telephone call to a company’s call center.  Millennials are the largest generation, who have chosen to avoid talking on the phone. Some claim it’s an anxiety issue, but either way you look at it, Millennial’s non-data phone usage is declining. 

Many companies have gotten creative and tried to use Twitter or another custom solution for online chat to bridge the gap, but it’s not enough.  Haven’t we all experienced providing information in a chat or a voice response platform, and then when the call is escalated to a human, the exact information you’ve already provided is requested again?

Bridging the Gap with Chat Bots, AI and Cisco Spark
With chat bots and Artificial Intelligence, we can automate some of the interactions people have when they communicate with businesses, similar to self-service IVRs.  With Cisco Spark, we have the ability to take it a step further by escalating to a collaborative call including video and desktop sharing, with all of the history of the conversation included.

Another way to illustrate this is in regards to service interruptions or emergency outages.  Chat bots can bridge applications and automate or reduce the number of steps for routine tasks. It’s a tremendous advantage to be able to communicate with a bot to determine the status of an application’s health. This could include the progress of a backup or the uptime of the application itself.  If there was an instance where a customer faced an emergency application outage, the bot and Cisco Spark can seamlessly bridge the gap between a Network Operations Center (“NOC”) with the application owners to reduce outage times. 

So what are some of the benefits?  As an Application Owner, this means I don’t have to carry a laptop with me when I’m On Call.  I can triage events using the collaborative functionality of Cisco Spark with the NOC and bot all from my mobile phone or tablet. Behind the scenes, the bot is communicating with Change/Event Outage/Support tools (like Service Now or Remedy), Change Calendaring tools (like Kinetic or Exchange) and SNMP Monitoring tools (like HP or Solarwinds) to answer questions and help troubleshoot during the outage.

Have you ever had a headache over scheduling meetings with multiple people? We have created a bot that reviews everyone’s calendar for availability.  The bot returns best options for a meeting and then schedules it using @Spark. We are also currently evaluating how Cisco Spark can integrate with ChatOps, a conversation-driven development using chat bots to to automate tasks.

Presidio and Cisco have a comprehensive partnership to provide robust and reliable solutions to our clients.  Presidio has established deep, technical expertise in the Cisco portfolio, and this has allowed a unique collaborative relationship facilitating the co-development of innovative solutions. Presidio has been one of the first Cisco partners to extend the relationship to Cisco Spark and is diligently working to build compelling user-stories based on practical needs.

At Presidio, we are passionate about solving challenges for our clients. Our focus on Cisco Spark and our professional services can help solve existing problems or enhance current workflows to allow clients to focus on their core business in a more collaborative manner.

Reach Out
We’d love to hear from you on some of the challenges you are facing and see how we can help you.

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