3 Ideas for Designing for Chatbots

Blog Bots Viewpoint

Chatbots are the rage, but we are in the early days.  We are still not sure about how best to design for bots.  Yes, while conversational interfaces have promise to redefine the User Experience, the challenge facing us is to identify the right Use Cases, and the appropriate design.  After reviewing the nascent literature on this, talking to customer end users, and based on our own experience of building chatbots for enterprise systems, here are 3 ideas for Designing for Chatbots:

  1. Minimize Input: The user experience should be the priority.  Expecting users to enter free text has the potential for failure.  Instead, it may be best to have users give structured input.  For example, our developers at Unvired have designed a Command Infrastructure that eliminates lengthy free text input.  For example, Users can select Approve or Reject a Purchase Order in SAP or View Sales order from Oracle EBS with a Get Order Details simple chat command.
  2. Hybrid Approach: In some cases, the user may want to talk to a human at some point in the conversation with the bot. Good design should enable a human to jump in at any time.  Say, for example, you are ordering flowers on Facebook Messenger using a chatbot, but are frustrated because you cannot find what you are looking for.  There should be a way out to reach out to a human.
  3. Simple: The design for chatbots should be simple. One of the advantages of bots is that the need for say, a 3 screen application is eliminated.  There is no GUI.  Bots interactions should be kept simple and short—the user should give minimal input, and receive the output.

Let me know if you have other ideas for designing for bots.  These are early days, and we can all learn from each other.

This blog was first posted on LinkedIn.

Chatbots for SAP: Talk to SAP and Disrupt the User Interface

Blog Bots Mobile Use Case

Lately, there has been a lot of buzz around bots.  Bots are the lightweight programs that will make our work easier, and help us escape the multitude of apps that users have to navigate.  Bots have a simple text interface that eliminates the need for a Graphical User Interface (GUI).  Bots talk to systems, applications, and things- hence the term chatbots.   Much has already been written about bots, machine learning, AI, Natural Language Processing, and so this blog discusses a very specific sub-topic: Chatbots for SAP.

Interfaces with SAP come in many forms—the SAP GUI, Personas, and SAP Fiori among others. That is till now-enter the conversational interface.  At Unvired, we have developed chatbots for SAP to enable various Use Cases:

1.SAP ERP-Workflow: How about SAP messaging you an alert that a Purchase Order needs to be approved?  You look at the details, and approve.  Your text “Approve” gets the PO approved in SAP.

2.SAP ERP-Sales: The Sales leader needs to report to the CEO the latest sales figures. A quick text to SAP, and the answer comes right back. How about looking at a sales chart—that can be viewed too.

There are so many chatbots for SAP that would be a must have—for SAP ERP, S/4 HANA, SAP CRM, Cloud for Customer (C4C), SuccessFactors, and others.  Customers in industries including Manufacturing, Chemicals, Financial Services, and Real Estate have indicated interest in exploring Use Cases for chatbots.

Chatbots for SAP enable receiving alerts from SAP, taking actions/decisions on those alerts, and  searching/querying all with the intent to streamline workflow, and make work easier.

If you are an SAP customer or SAP partner, and want to collaborate with Unvired to build chatbots for SAP, please send me an Inmail or email me or comment on this post.  We would love to jointly define some Use Cases for chatbots.  These are exciting times indeed.  As always, looking forward to others sharing their experience with and thoughts on bots.

Four Themes from the Best Practices for Chemicals (SAP) Conference

Blog Mobile Use Case Viewpoint

Earlier this week, I attended the Best Practices for Chemicals (SAP) Conference hosted by The Eventful Group in Houston.  It was a great conference attended by several CIOs including from Huntsman, Nova Chemicals, PLZ Aeroscience, and Americas Styrenics among others.  There were many great presentations.  Here are the top themes:

1.Digital: Chemical companies are embracing digital.  Mobile applications, Internet of Things (IoT), Predictive Analytics, and the Cloud is being adopted by this industry.  Agricultural chemical companies are combining sensor data, soil data and weather information to increase crop yield. HANA is beginning to be adopted as a database and SAP S/4 HANA is also making headway as the digital core. Customers, Suppliers, Employees, and Assets are the four pillars of Digitization.

2.Outcome based: Chemical companies are also innovating and defining new business models. For example, instead of selling compressors, they are selling “Compressed Air” as a service. It is all about Outcome based models.

3.Cyber-security: Chemical companies are very concerned about being hacked.  Given the nature of the products they make, a cyber attack can be very dangerous.   There are regular meetings held where Chemical companies discuss how best to implement cyber security.

4.Global Compliance: Chemical companies have to ensure that their products comply with various regulations. Also, they have to register each product in the country where they plan to sell. Regulations change frequently, and it is critical to stay on top.

This blog first appeared on LinkedIn

Digital Use Cases for Chemicals : 3 Non-Obvious Mobile Applications

Blog Mobile Use Case

The chemicals industry is going through very interesting times. This is an intense period of building new plants in the Gulf Coast, mergers and acquisitions are frequent along with divestitures, and products are becoming commoditized. Supply chains are ever complex, and safety/compliance issues are paramount. At the same time, the workforce is beginning to retire, and with that, a lot of knowledge is walking out the door. Uptime has to be maximized, processes have to be optimized, cycle times reduced, and the workforce has to be engaged by leveraging digital technology. The need for real time information to manage demand and supply is making chemical companies adopt sensors to collect data, and make predictive decisions. Digital, indeed is being embraced by chemical companies. As we talk to various chemicals/refinery customers in Texas and beyond, we have found 3 non-obvious Digital use cases for mobile applications (beyond Operator Rounds, Work Orders, Warehouse Management):

1.Supply Chain/Transportation: Chemical companies ship products that are frequently hazardous. Many times, they outsource the shipping to third party carriers. These carriers can be shipping via trucks and rail. However, the liability to ensure that the transport vehicle is roadworthy, still rests with the chemical company. So, the employee of the chemical company has to do inspection checks, and record them. Calculations need to be performed as the quantity of chemical loaded depends on various parameters. These are today performed manually, and results are recorded on paper. All this paper and manual work could be replaced by a mobile app that can record data on a smartphone/tablet, and send that data to SAP or some other system. Results in better safety/compliance, faster shipping, and better customer service.

2.Production: In chemical processes, the yield is different from the theoretical value due to process parameter variations or impurities . Hence, it is difficult to know beforehand the exact quantity of a product produced. So, frequently, the production order has to be adjusted or a new order created. Mobile apps on tablets/smart phones can be used to adjust/create production orders in SAP straight from the shop floor.

3.Product Shipping: It is not uncommon for wrong products to be shipped—the chemicals industry is no exception. However, shipping a wrong chemical is vastly different from shipping a wrong pair of sneakers. There can be serious legal and financial consequences. Mobile apps that scan bar codes to compare material number in various documents like Shipping Order, Certificate of Analysis or Bill of Lading can minimize the probability of wrong product shipments by alerting warehouse workers in case of a mismatch.

Hope that you found the above non-obvious mobile use cases in Chemicals interesting. If you have ideas related to these, pl. share them.

This was originally published on LinkedIn.

The Digital Enterprise: Transform your Employee Engagement

Blog Viewpoint

Background

Enterprises are transforming themselves into the Digital Enterprise.  The drivers behind the move to Digital are enhanced customer experience, operational excellence, new business models, innovations in business processes, and greater employee engagement.  Technologies such as Social, Mobile, Analytics/Big Data, Wearables, and Cloud are the enablers behind going Digital.  The Digital Experience varies for the Customer, Supplier, and Employee.  This blog focuses on that for the employee.

While it is true that enterprises already have digital data due to ERP, CRM and other such systems, there is still an enormous amount of data on paper, especially generated by the mobile worker who till now, has not had ready access to mobile devices and systems while in the Field.  Mobile devices were limited to certain roles like in warehouses or sales.  The proliferation of mobile devices has now created the opportunity to create a true Digital Enterprise.

I have also included some real world customer examples to add context to the discussion.

The “Disconnected” Employee

Today, employees at a company are still struggling to connect with each other and are unable to share information seamlessly, despite all the advances in technology.  Communication is still via emails for the most part, and over phone calls.  Information is not shared with all team members who have a need to know.   Collaboration suffers leading to sub-optimal decision making that can delay a product launch in a CPG company or endanger patient safety in a healthcare setting.  This in turn also leads to a lost opportunity in providing employees with a lifelong learning experience.  The “Disconnected Employee” is thus a Less Productive and less Engaged Employee.  Let us examine below some of the steps one can take to overcome these limitations.

Communication

As the “Consumerization of IT” takes hold, employees expect to be able to use the same tools that they use in their personal lives to use in the workplace.  Email only does not cut it anymore. So, texting including leaving voice notes becomes an important tool to communicate as does the ability to easily make video calls.   Employees expect to receive alerts or notifications not just via emails—they want notifications sent to their mobile devices when an important event occurs or they need to take action.

Chat/Messaging like communication channels are becoming increasingly popular, which will have subscribers based on levels of interest.   Thus, for example, employees at a manufacturing plant could subscribe to an Asset Management Channel where they could share information related to suppliers, parts failing, and  tips for preventive maintenance.

In all cases, communication between employees has to be highly secure.  Data that resides on mobile devices needs to be encrypted, and in some industries like healthcare, communication needs to be HIPAA compliant, and protect patient health information.

Collaboration

Employees are demanding that they be able to collaborate across channels—be it over their desktops, Web, tablets, smartphones, or Wearables like Apple Watch. The Mobile web and mobile applications allow for the exchange of information anytime anywhere.   A Field Service Worker repairing a piece of equipment on an oilfield can make a video call to an expert back at Headquarters, share images of the damage, and seek advice, so as to perform the optimal repairs.   Similarly, a physician in a hospital can share lab results over a HIPAA compliant texting application using their tablets, leading to enhanced patient safety.

Mobile Dashboards are an important element of collaboration.  The ability of executives to access data at their fingertips anytime enables them to make better and real time decisions.  Trending of data, and predicting possible outcomes be it in the areas of Sales or Plant Operations adds immense value and moves enterprises from a reactive to a proactive mode.

Lifelong Learning

Employees add new skills and gain training throughout their careers.  In many industries, they need to pass tests on a regular basis, and keep certificates on record for compliance purposes.  Mobile applications are a great way to ensure lifelong learning.  Employees can access content from their smartphones or tablets anytime anywhere, and are not tied to their desktops.  Data captured about the tasks performed by an employee can be analyzed, and recommendations be made about what training is best suited for that particular employee.  As an example, an electrician performing asset/equipment repairs in a Chemicals plant can be evaluated on the quality of work based on the re-work performed within 30 days.  Also, the data recorded about the procedures performed by a specific worker can be used to dispatch the best workers for a particular job based on their experience.

Benefits of the Digital Experience for Employees

We present below some tangible business benefits reported publicly by two of our customers.

Kaneka: Kaneka is a chemicals manufacturing company based in the Houston, Texas area.  They have deployed the “Digital Plant” incorporating mobile applications on iPads for Equipment Inspections, Work Orders, and Warehouse/Inventory Management.  Below, we list the benefits they have realized in addition to getting rid of paper:

Asset Management/Plant Operations

  • Automated the complete process –standardized process across Kaneka
  • Increased compliance
  • Increased safety
  • Increased Rounds productivity
  • Estimated to Reduce Maintenance costs
  • Increase in Safety and Compliance
  • Time savings/Increase in productivity

Warehouse/Inventory Management

  • Reduced time and effort in Physical Inventory counting
  • Reduced data admin costs due to On demand stock information and easy and accurate material movements
  • Reduced time and effort in Physical Inventory counting
  • Material Issues and Returns more accurate leading to savings in time

 

WEL Networks: WEL is an electric utility based in New Zealand, and they provided a digital experience for their employees by deploying mobile apps for Windows 8 tablets to perform Field Service on their equipment located across the country.  Benefits reported by WEL in addition to getting rid of paper are as follows:

  • Efficiency gain in inspections : more inspections done
  • Lower administrative effort : more time for other tasks
  • Field technicians doing the job employed for : staff retention
  • Timely data capture : better information available sooner

 

Conclusion

Actual customer feedback points to the fact that the Digital Experience for the Employee increases communication, collaboration, and automation of business processes. This reduces costs and increases employee retention.  Employees feel more empowered, and happier employees stay longer. In many cases, it also enhances the Digital Experience for the Customer.  For example, a paper-less office that may be viewed as a Digital Experience for Employees initiative can equally impact the Customer Service process.  The digital data captured and analyzed can lead to tailor made learning opportunities for an employee over their lifetime. Employees can make better and real time decisions that bestow a competitive advantage to their employers.

Note: This post is also on LinkedIn

Upcoming Days in the Life of an Internet of Things “Connected Sensor”

Blog Internet Of Things Mobile Use Case Technology Viewpoint

I am a sensor, a device that senses the environment. Humans first made me to enhance their industrial operations, and now I gather, my species can help them monitor their health too. My host is a machine called a turbine, and my particular DNA enables me to detect vibrations in my host. I was born in Taiwan and shipped to Houston, Texas as an infant. Maintenance folks every so often visit me, inspect my readings, and record them on a paper form. Or at least that is how they used to. Nowadays, they whip out their iPads with a flourish, and use mobile applications leveraging Mobile Application Development Platforms. But, I hear from analysts that all that is about to change. Technicians will not visit me to inspect my host-instead, I will send data to them. For, we have arrived at a momentous event—the Internet of Things (IoT) is here. I am told that the IoT will connect Machines to Machines (M2M) and things to humans, and everything to everything.

I for one, am confused. For decades, I led a lonely life isolated on the shop floor with only the occasional visit from the Maintenance technician. Now, in one fell swoop, I am going to be connected to what they call the Internet. Others say that I am going to talk to the cloud. I will be sending vibration data about my host—not plain old data but Big Data. This Big Data will be analyzed in real time using frameworks like Hadoop. All this vibration data analytics will actually help keep my host healthier, and enable humans to run their industries better. But, I feel like Brutus, in that I have betrayed my turbine host, by sending data every minute without permission. Is there no data privacy for machines?

The other day, some reputed consultants had come over to “Connect” me. They were repeating a mantra incessantly—what I could decipher was Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud (SMAC). I felt like “smac(k)ing” them on their faces. “Bluetooth Low Energy” will make it feasible for me and my brethren to be connected in droves of billions—in fact over 50 Billion things will be connected within 6 years. I am anti-social, and do not want to be connected. Just because humans have replaced reading with Facebook, doesn’t give them the right to impose this state of “always on” on me. I like my quiet time.

In any case, my turbine host will also not be spared. Augmented Reality will be used to perform better maintenance on her. Our technician visitors will come armed with Wearables when they come to repair us—novel looking Google Glasses and fashionable smart watches powered by Android Wear. Beacons may be deployed on the manufacturing floor, I hear to deliver contextual data.

I guess I am being a spoilt sport. Rooted in the past. Isn’t progress the purpose of life—even for a lowly sensor and a turbine? Are Cars not being connected too? Are Homes not being Nested? So, I am going to embrace this brave new world. I say, usher in the era of the Internet of Things.

As posted on LinkedIn

Google Glass in Oil & Gas and Oil Field Services: Digital OilField

Blog Mobile Use Case

Recently, Wearables have been getting a lot of attention with Google Glass and Android Wear based smartwatches.  Gartner has predicted that companies can save over $1 Billion in costs related to Field Service leveraging Wearables including Glass.  We have done our own research talking to Exploration and Production companies as well as Oil Field Services.  We have also brainstormed with Google on this.  The use of Glass is ideal where hands free use is needed, typically in a messy environment where workers may be wearing gloves. Here are some of our findings where Google Glass applications can be useful:

1. Collaboration with Remote experts: Workers in the Field can make video calls, and take pictures to get expert opinions thousands of miles away

2. Training: Glass can record video from the user’s perspective while activities/tasks are being performed.  This video can then be used to train new workers.

3. Digital Checklists: Workers can get hands free checklist instructions on their Glass that can enhance compliance.

4. Data Overlay: Workers in Exploration can get reservoir/geospatial data overlay on Glass to help them appraise the Field better

5. ERP Remote Data access: Workers can get data from their SAP and Oracle systems and perform transactions like Goods Movement and Inventory Check.

The Use Cases of Glass are emerging and will be defined over the next year as companies launch pilot projects.  Unvired is working with several early adopter customers to usher in the era of Wearable Computing.

 

A Tale of Two Wearables: Google Glass and Smart Watch

Blog Technology Viewpoint

Did you notice how quickly smartphones and tablets have been relegated to the realm of the ordinary? Yesterday, Google announced the developer preview program for Android Wear, their OS for smart watches.  And along with that, they talked of an ecosystem supporting Wear–the likes of Intel, Samsung, LG, and Fossil that will now produce smart watches.  A short while ago, Google also launched their Google Glass Developer Program–yes, those nerdy glasses that will deliver information to our very eyes.  These two newer devices are ushering in the era of wearables, and a new wave of mobile computing.

So, the question is about how well these newer devices will be adopted.  There are many skeptics who believe that Glass will not take off.  The concern is that people will not want to be seen with those glasses.  A more serious concern is about privacy–that for example, someone can take your picture without you having any clue.  As far as smart watches are concerned, do we really need a watch that does things your smart phone already does.  The answer is that both these wearables have their place.

Some people are already misusing their smart phones–so, Glass does not really add any significant new element of privacy risk. On the other hand, in some situations, it helps to get notifications and messages for example delivered to your eyes without having to look down at a phone.  It would be very handy at a dinner where one could read urgent and important information without appearing rude.  I think the keywords are urgent and important.

I have much greater faith in smart watches taking off.  People are used to wearing watches, and a smart watch could be a fashion statement and a status symbol.  Remember the Roger Federer and Rolex ads? So, as applications are built for the smart watch like health monitoring, notification/message delivery, they will become more and more popular.

It seems that the next few years will even be more exciting and bring more innovation.  You can rest assured that Unvired will keep abreast of these trends, and build some cool applications for wearables.

 

 

Internet Of Things

Blog Technology Viewpoint

There is now a shift happening towards a world where there will be billions of connected devices to the Internet. These connected devices can be in buildings, cars, manufacturing plants, or bridges.  of course, there are sensors already today collecting data every second, and transmitting them to systems in the backend.  For example, temperature sensors on medicines that are shipped can ensure that any violation of allowable temperature range is detected to prevent health mishaps.  So, what is the big deal now about the Internet of Things (IoT) you may ask.

Well, what makes the IoT exciting at this time is the sheer scale –we are talking billions of connected devices, and the converging technologies that have arrived which promise to transform business and our lives.  On a personal front, we could be wearing monitors that sense our health parameters and alert us and our doctors about any impending health event. On the business side, we could have Machine to Machine (M2M) integration that can create new processes or enhance existing ones.

The question arises as to what are these new technologies that will give birth to the IoT? Also, what are the requirements to realize the Vision that we have for the IoT?  First of all, devices at the edge need connectivity. Secondly,  all data has to be securely transmitted to the backend systems.  One has to ensure that these devices cannot be hacked. Scalability is key where the Cloud comes in. Then, very large volumes of data (Big Data) have to be stored.  That is not enough–this data has to be analyzed in real time for predictable analytics.  Action has to be taken on the analysis.  Process Integration becomes key so that when a person has to take an action, it is triggered in an ERP, HR, or CRM system as the case may be.

Unvired has many of the components to enable the IoT.  The Unvired Mobile Platform (UMP) allows for M2M communication. Data is transmitted securely from any thing/device to any system.  UMP encrypts all data for security purposes. UMP also  has an Application Development Framework to rapidly build applications for IoT.  UMP enables process integration with backed systems like SAP, Oracle, or CRM systems like Salesforce.com. UMP leverages the cloud for scalability, and has an analytics app that can render data analytics visually for enhanced decision making.

Let the IoT games begin.

 

Mobile Apps for Planning and Design to Enhance Asset Management

Blog Mobile Use Case

Mobile apps for Work Orders and Rounds are among the more common used by field technicians to increase employee productivity and asset/plant maintenance.  An equally interesting area where a mobile app can be very useful is in the upfront Planning and Design process.

For complex maintenance and construction tasks, the technicians have to go onsite and survey the site, take measurements, estimate the components needed for repair, and supporting equipment like ladders or scaffolding.  Today, most of this work is done on paper leading to errors, duplicate data entry, time delays, and increased downtime.  These inefficiencies can be eliminated by a mobile application that can help with the following:

The technician can download the Work Order authorizing the Design/Planning activity.  The notification can be attached to the work order.  The worker can take pictures with the mobile device’s camera so that the work execution can be facilitated.  The estimates of time, material, tools, and equipment needed can be captured on the mobile device, and sent to SAP or any other backend system instantly from the field. Workflow can be enabled so that the manager approves the Planning tasks.  User guides and standard operating procedures can be accessed from corporate portals like Microsoft SharePoint that help the worker make accurate estimates leading to increased compliance and safety.

As we have conversations with customers around Mobile Enterprise Asset Management, we find that a Planning/Design mobile app can solve an important pain problem.  Combined with Rounds, Work Orders, Inventory Manager, the Planning app completes the portfolio for keeping plants and equipment running smoothly.