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Conversational Platforms: The Journey from Benchwarmer to Enterprise Superstar

Pradeep Rajendran, Technology Leader, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Pradeep Rajendran, Technology Leader, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Pradeep Rajendran, Technology Leader, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

The Artificial Intelligence revolution landed a few years ago, and now the AI gold rush is in full swing. While there are many facets of AI like Computer Vision, Machine Learning, CNNs, GANs, object recognition, forecasting, etc., very few are as accessible and impactful as Conversational Platforms (CP).

Until even about a decade ago, using natural language to interact with systems was clunky and unreliable. Companies used a highly unpopular tree of IVR choices. The friendly yet annoying voice is asking you to press or say 8 to get balance information frustrated clients to no end. All that changed when Natural Language Processing (NLP) leveraged deep neural networks and machine learning to gain superpowers. When Siri arrived, our expectations of how we interact with machines changed dramatically. There are now millions of consumer-focused devices like Alexa and Google Home changing expectations of employees and customers every day.

“Conversational Platforms are a revolution in the user interface, diminishing the barrier between man and machine. Thinking of them as just another AI technology is like thinking iPhones are just about making calls.”

While conversational products proliferated, the rubber did not meet the road for enterprises until AI joined forces with the cloud to democratize AI by creating conversational platforms like AWS Lex, Azure bot framework, and LUIS, Google’s Dialog flow, etc. Before this, companies were struggling to build their models using open-source AI platforms hosted on their enterprise infrastructure. In other words, the enterprises were solving the technology problem instead of leveraging technology to address business opportunities. Cloud-based conversational platforms now allow enterprises to implement and scale without friction.

“Gartner Survey: 80% of companies now expect to compete mainly based on customer experience.”

Here is my obligatory citing of a Garter study - a recent Gartner survey found that 80 percent of companies expect to compete mainly based on customer experience. Nothing is as primed to improve the customer experience as CP. Many organizations are already using chatbots to generate leads, provide support, and complete transactions. Perceptive enterprises understand that slapping a CP on a knowledge base is not enough, and they know these interfaces will need to be backed by the seamless end to end workflow processes, making the user experience truly frictionless.

Astute companies know that employees are as important as clients. They use CP internally to make their operations more efficient and enhance employee satisfaction. Examples include using Amazon’s Alexa for setting up meetings, using Azure’s bot framework for intranet chatbots to provide vacation information, log time and kick off workflows, etc.

We are still at the infancy of CP, but those that don’t jump on the jet plane fast enough will be left behind. The recent announcement by McDonald’s on their plan to use CP to take orders highlights how companies are seeking to use voice as a competitive advantage. The enterprises that are starting to use CP to transform customer and employee experiences will cut expenses, gain loyalty, and increase efficiencies. More importantly, they will start to mature from using simple CP interfaces to truly understanding and anticipating their users’ intent to serve them better.

“Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.”

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