The evolution of bots is one of the most significant trends observed in the field of automation. With automated systems becoming more and more mainstream, bots are now the go-to solution for companies to deliver immersive and highly sophisticated services to their customers. The last decade, in particular, has witnessed quite a massive influx of bots in industrial operations, making bot as a service (BaaS) one of the most sought-after automated tools.
The spectrum of bots is quite diverse, so to say – it includes robots, chatbots, and more famously, personal/virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa, etc. In laymen's parlance, bots are simply automated programs that help people perform repetitive tasks. In the early years, bots were used for financial gains, say, for creating fake accounts on money transfer platforms for fund exfiltration. Today, bots have evolved into tools that can be suitably customized to target specific applications. In consequence, bot as a service (BaaS) is witnessing a steady rise, with consumers using these conversational interfaces more and more to interact with companies.
One might wonder whether there is any difference between bots, robots, and chatbots? For an amateur, these words may be used interchangeably. However, there is a vast difference between the three.
· A robot is basically a device/machine used in core industries such as manufacturing and FMCG. Robots are used to automate heavy machinery and other tasks that may help reduce human intervention with efficient AI-based solutions.
· A bot is a computer program designed to perform repetitive, redundant tasks. It is also designed to automate customer interactions and helps facilitate website engagement. Bots have been used by search engines for long, in the form of web crawlers, for content analysis and indexing sites.
· A chatbot is an automated tool used specifically for conversational interactions. Companies such as Amazon have been using chatbots extensively to directly interact with their customers and enrich the buyer experience. It is more like a sub-genre of bots.
According to a Forbes Insights survey conducted in 2018 with 700 C-suite executives, 86% of companies use chatbots for customer service.
Although chatbot as a service has gained momentum since the last decade, it has been around for a considerably long time. History reveals that the first chatbot to have ever been developed was called ‘ELIZA’, in 1966 at MIT. ELIZA was designed to answer simple questions on decision support tools. With time, chatbots evolved to be a sophisticated consumer interaction tool, and today, they contribute immensely to simplifying the purchase research for buyers. Designed in the form of intricate FAQs, chatbots provide responses to common and specific queries for buyers making it easier for retail companies and the like to provide enriching customer services. In the future, chatbots are expected to play a major role in customer acquisition, engagement, and retention.
Chatbot as a service is also getting popular due to the thriving e-commerce industry. In an era where online shopping is the rage, customers pose a range of questions pertaining to the products they buy. This in turn drives the need for well-designed chatbots that deliver quick, automated responses to customer queries, effectively eliminating repetitive tasks for human employees.
The airline industry has adapted to using chatbots as a service as well. SpiceJet for instance has leveraged Nuance's conversational AI technology to launch ‘Pepper’ that helps customers undergo a smooth and seamless experience, right from booking tickets to web check-ins and refunds to seat selections.
Come ahead, chatbot as a service is only bound to get bigger, as tech companies continue to break barriers with cutting-edge products. To cite an instance, cloud-based app building platform Appy Pie has recently launched a new conversational AI-enabled chatbot. This virtual assistant can be suitably customized as required by the industry vertical in question, such as HR management, healthcare, BFSI, etc.
According to Gartner, robotic process automation (RPA) software valuation depicted an increase of 63% in 2018, hitting USD 846 million. Research firm MarketsAndMarkets predicts that the market size is likely to reach USD 12 billion by 2025.
Robotic process automation works a little differently from the other bot-based tools. Note that there is a difference between RPA and RPA as a service. The former includes using robots for automating business operations and reducing human intervention. On the other hand, RPA as a service indicates the businesses will be able to leverage the many benefits of RPA without having to pay upfront for the technology, which is quite expensive.
At its core, RPA as a service delivers extreme flexibility. With RPA, companies will not require to purchase their own licensing or professional services. It has been quite a challenge for companies to implement RPA at scale; that’s where RPA as a service comes to the rescue.
RPA as a service ensures that the robots will function only when needed and only to carry out the required tasks, thereby ensuring maximum utilization. It helps to optimize the features of RPA so that companies can manage their investments into the software as they continue to bring in more processes in the business operations.
RPA as a service finds extensive applications in the financial realm. HPA for instance has adopted RPA as a service and has been able to enable its lenders to automate 85% of the loan cycle process, thereby reducing risk and saving time and money. This in turn has also allowed the company to focus more on loan officer retention and business expansion.
According to SeedScientific,
· At the onset of 2020, the amount of worldwide data was predicted to be 44 zetabytes.
· Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have at least 1,200 petabytes of information stored.
· The daily data generation is expected to hit 463 exabytes globally, by 2025.
Let’s get introduced to the notion of web scrapers, to begin with. The snippet above clearly depicts how data-centric the world is going to be in the next few years. The reliability on data generated by companies to be used in core applications is only going to increase with time. However, when professionals require large amounts of data from the web, it becomes a mammoth, time-consuming task to obtain the same through manual methods. Here’s where web scraping comes in. It refers to an automated process that helps obtain a huge chunk of data from various websites. Initially, the data is unstructured and is later converted into structured data stored in a database.
Web scrapping is undertaken using varied ways – specific APIs, customized code, and online services. Web scraping as a service finds tremendous end-uses today, across major industries as well as one-time customers. The process is done using automated tools and requires two parts – the crawler, an AI algorithm that assists in web browsing, and scraper, the tool that helps extract data from the website in question.
Web scraping as a service is deployed majorly in marketing, such as:
· SEO practices
· Monitoring social media channels
· Competitor analysis
· Financial statistics
· Real-time analytics
· Talent acquisition (Recruitment)
· Equity Research
· Lead Generation
· Consumer analysis
· Price point comparison
· Market Research
· News aggregation
· Email marketing
Although a little less popular than its counterparts, web scrapping as a service is one of the most vital technologies used today. Most web scrapping services are reliable, quick, affordable, and quite accurate. It does come with its challenges, especially if the websites are quite complex or the data to be scrapped is humongous. Nonetheless, web scraper as a service is expected to moderately disrupt the automation industry in the future.
There is no limit to the incredible benefits that BaaS provides to companies. Some of them are enlisted below:
Surge in sales
Given that they are available 24X7 and are quicker, smarter, and respond appropriately, bot as a service is bound to boost sales for companies. A well-designed bot helps improve the company image and brand name worldwide, as more awareness pertaining to its products, services, and processes comes to light.
Customer acquisition and retention
Deploying bot as a service will help customers get answers to their queries much faster, especially during peak hours. According to a survey carried out by the teams at Salesforce, myclever, SurveyMonkey Audience, and Drift, around 64% of customers reported that the main benefit of bot as a service is that it is available 24X7, while 55% of customers reported that the main advantage according to them was getting an instant response to their queries. This automatically translates to companies being able to acquire and retain more customers.
Bots help to substantially increase customer interaction. As they continue to resolve queries quickly, more and more customers will prefer getting their questions answered through bots, majorly increasing customer engagement.
Companies will be able to save tremendously with bot implementation. The presence of bot as a service helps reduce the need to hire more customer service executives. Lesser labor results in considerable savings on customer service agent salaries, infrastructure, and so on.
Lack of direct conversation with humans
While most customers may be comfortable with a bot, a section of them may still prefer the human touch. At the end of the day, a bot is but a mechanized tool and may not offer the convenience one may have with actual customer service executives.
Although installing and implementing bots does not require a huge investment, maintaining and optimizing them periodically as per user requests may result in considerable costs.
Loss of jobs
While it may be advantageous for companies to reduce their workforce, implementing bots in the long run, on a huge scale, may have a massive impact on the job market. Many customer service agents are likely to lose their jobs, triggering a major imbalance.
Despite the listed challenges, bot as a service market size is anticipated to depict a commendable surge in the years ahead. The latest trend making waves in this industry is the cloud BaaS. In this case, automation is delivered as a service in the cloud. That is to say, it does not run in a company’s server room, but instead, runs on a network of remote servers. How ingenious is that?
Recently, Microsoft announced the launch of the Azure Bot Service – the company’s first public cloud bot-service built using Azure Functions and the Microsoft Bot Framework. This cloud bot service deploys Microsoft Azure and provides a platform to build and manage intelligent bots. With an increasing number of customers demanding automated services, bot as a service is likely to create a transformational impact in the future.