If messaging software startups like Slack and Kore have their way, bots will become far more common in the not-so-distant future for organizing and prioritizing workplace communications. Only the messages won’t just come from other humans—they’ll be generated by software applications and Internet-connected machines that need to share important updates.
Chat “bots," simple apps programmed to take action when certain conditions are met, aren’t all that new. Many Web sites use this sort of software to suggest canned responses to basic inquiries from visitors. The usual suspects are experimenting with ways to make them smarter through machine learning—although they’ve got a lot more work to do, as Microsoft learned the hard way last week with its smart-ass-turned-racist bot “Tay.”
Slowly but surely, bots are finding their way into other business processes. Slack’s plan, for example, is to connect its messaging platform to a broad variety of cloud applications. Slack's integration with Twitter, for example, pipes updates from the social network into a Slack “channel” so marketing teams can follow complaints or comments and then discuss them. Then there's the connection with ride-sharing app Uber, enabling someone to book a ride using simple commands sent as Slack messages. There are dozens of similar examples.
There are also dozens of other software startups experimenting with similar ideas. One of the latest to enter the fray is Kore, a new venture from serial entrepreneur Raj Koneru, founder and chairman of mobile app development specialist Kony.
“You can talk to an app much like you would talk to a person,” Koneru tells Fortune.
Like Slack, Kore is working on bots that enable two-way communications between people, apps, and machines. There are already more than 100 of them that connect to widely used cloud software applications, including the Concur expense management system, the Salesforce customer management database, and the Zendesk customer support application.
The Salesforce bot, for example, can be programmed to alert a sales representative when a new lead is assigned or when it is a good time for follow-up outreach. This happens behind the scenes, regardless of whether or not someone is actually logged into the application.
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That’s what makes bots so compelling is that they take in information without requiring human intervention. The key to that is automation, said Raul Castanon-Martinez, a senior analyst with 451 Research.
“You do not have this with your typical enterprise mobile app,” he says. “Consider a mobile app for business intelligence or customer relationship management—employees still require a log-in process of some sort to access the functions with the enterprise application to write, read or extract data. This means employees are doing their work in the same way as before, with the added convenience of gaining access through a mobile device. The real impact in productivity comes from improving the workflow.”
Kore has been working on its platform, which includes powerful encryption technology designed with corporate compliance rules, for almost two years. The company is encouraging businesses to share the bots they develop in a marketplace available registered users. “It’s much easier and the value realization in clearer than creating a typical application,” Koneru says.