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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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
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
At Unvired we have always prided ourselves on providing choices to our customers. We were the first to offer Unvired Mobile Platform (UMP) as both an on-premise and cloud platform for mobile application development a few years ago. Taking that journey ahead in cloud neutrality, we are delighted to announce that UMP now runs natively on The Google Compute Engine aka Google Cloud.
GCE instances can be leveraged to run multi-node, horizontally scaling UMP instances. For database you can create an instance of the Cloud SQL engine and link it to the UMP compute engine nodes conveniently via the Google Cloud Console.
For storage we leverage the Google Cloud Storage and store data in the buckets that are created there. This provides for both stateless access from any of the UMP nodes and redundancy in terms of storage / backup etc.
UMP can now run seamlessly within your datacenter, AWS or on Google Cloud. More innovations are underway to support other cloud providers in the next weeks.
If you are interested in taking UMP for a spin, submit a trial request now and we would be delighted to spin a couple of instances for you.
Host on the cloud, get a dedicated server or build your own? This is a common question that most entrepreneurs who are launching a service ask themselves. Seeking answers via the web probably leaves more questions than answers.
The reasons are simple, there are a plethora of articles that sing the praises (for many right reasons) of Infrastructure As A Service (IAAS) such as AWS, Google and other similar services. The ease with which you can launch servers on these clouds make it even more appealing. The fact that Netflix and other companies are using it gives the added assurance. Now head over to the wonderful calculator that all these services provide and crunch some numbers. You may either buy into it so completely that you are ready to launch your service or taken aback by actually how much it can cost. Lets face it, its not as cheap as its made out to be.
To better understand this problem, lets crunch some numbers with an example server. Suppose the server we need is equivalent to 4 Cores (or more), 32 GB RAM and about 200 GB hard disk space (Note that in most cases RAM is the overarching choice and CPU cores are not really configurable, notable new exception is Google). For simplicity I’am also not considering prepayment as no startup probaly wants to commit for more than a few months.
Cloud Servers (Instances):
AWS – Consider the m4.2xlarge at 32GB RAM and 8 cores. Linux instance is at $0.504 per hour or ~375$ per month. Add charges for storage and data transfer and approximate it to 400$ per month.
Google – Consider the n1-standard-8 at 30GB RAM and 8 cores. Linux instance is at $0.280 per hour lowest price with 100% usage or ~208$. Add charges for storage and data transfer and approximate to 230$ per month.
As you can notice there is already a significant difference between the two services. If you check other providers the price range will be similar.
Typically dedicated servers have always set you back by a significant sum and hence may not have been a choice. But a host of new providers has meant that hybrid offerings are available which has already reduced prices. Significantly Managed dedicated servers are way more expensive than unmanaged servers. The significant difference being in unmanged only the hardware is supported by the provider, every other responsibility us yours (software, backup etc).
Rackspace – A 24GB prepackaged dedicated server with 6 cores will set you back by ~ 674$ per month. This is backed by Rackspace Fanatical Support of course.
Packet.net – Packet offers dedicated baremetal hardware in a cloud like fashion. Type 1 server with 4 Cores and 32GB RAM (with 2x120GB SSD drives) is at $0.4 per hour or 297.6$ per month. There are no other charges as everything is included in this.
OVH – A major European provider with a NA presence in Canada and data center. A 32GB / 4 Core dedicated server (unmanaged) costs 79$ a month (no setup fee)
Hetzner.de – German data center, 32GB 4 Cores is priced at 39 Euros or ~43$ per month with a 79 Euro / ~87$ setup fee (one time)
As can be seen the range is again wide not considering a huge number of smaller providers. Depending on whether some of the administrative tasks can be managed in house or not, choice of provider can be made. Point to note though is that dedicated servers can actually be cheaper than cloud.
So before deciding, its important to decide based on these (There could be many more significant ones I’am missing, add to the comments)
1. Elastic Scaling – Are your users going to grow that dramatically that you need elastic capabiloty of that nature? Less than 1% of all web apps need this kind of scaling, rest are happy with more deterministic scaling. (Cloud v/s dedicated)
2. Redundancy – Sometimes cost of 2 dedicated servers is still cheaper than 1 cloud instance. So even HA is not an issue with dedicated, but multi region availability etc can also determine the choice.
3. Time – The longer you are willing to commit the cheaper some of the cloud services will be.
4. Legal or Security related – If customers dont prefer shared multi tenant instances, then you may have to go dedicated.
Net-net: Cloud services such as AWS are not the only choice. Even dedicated servers can be bought month on month with significant cost and performance gain. You actually have more choice than what is sometimes made out to be!
Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIN: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/iaas-cloud-really-low-cost-srinivasan-subramanian
The Unvired Mobile Platform (UMP) 3.2 includes a number of innovations that enable faster digitization and mobility. Whether your company wants to mobilize enterprise backends like SAP or databases or legacy systems, UMP has made that easy, fast and cost effective with a plethora of adapters that enable out of the box integrations. UMP 3.2 now includes a powerful REST API that allows you to leverage the same functionality to also develop web apps. So whether you want to go digital via web or mobile or both, UMP is your platform of choice.
In a series of blog posts starting today I will explore the new features and the transformations in the platform. This post will focus on the high level features and some under the hood changes that have been made to UMP to make it faster and better.
Features of note in UMP 3.2:
- Single infrastructure that runs within your datacenter or on cloud IAAS like Amazon Web Services (AWS). Absolutely identical, even the binaries are the same! This gives you enormous flexibility to go on premise and switch to cloud later or vice versa
- Fully load balanced, High Availability setup supported both within your datacenter and on cloud infrastructures
- Improved performance and scalability (see under the hood section below for more details)
- Enhanced REST API to easily build applications for web and mobile, supports both XML and JSON
- New enterprise adapters for OData and SAP HANA. SharePoint, REST and all other adapters have been further enhanced
- Enhanced push notifications for APNS and GCM (including follow up actions), support for browser push to notify web applications
- Error console to help administrators process data errors, backend submission errors etc. Your users will never need to see errors any more, just save and forget!
- Conflict management on submission, handle concurrent submissions, and multi-channel updates without breaking a sweat
- Enterprise App Store to distribute your enterprise applications, applications can also auto update without admin intervention
- A brand new dashboard that helps administrators know the pulse of the mobile deployments
- Isolate your deployments and administration control for subsidiaries, locations, departments with a single central instance
- Transport configurations and code across Development, Quality and Production landscapes of UMP. No more manual administration tasks
- Time zone (user or company) based distributed scheduler to periodically refresh mobile data, no need to run battery hogging threads on devices checking for updates
- And …
Under the hood: UMP 3.2 core has undergone significant reengineering. The new UMP is now based on Spring backed by Level 2 distributed caching of data. This allows lightning fast reads and writes. UMP uses async servlets for maximum scalability with configurable thread pools to optimize resource needs based on your individual needs.
UMP supports deployment on any enterprise operating system such as Unix, Linux, Windows etc. with a MySQL, Oracle or MS SQL Server backend. For test and demo purpose,UMP can also be run with a H2 embedded database.
The UI has been spruced up with keyboard shortcuts to simplify administration and management. For those Unix/Linux administrators who love the command line, a command window allows you to quickly enter commands. The new UMP runs on JBoss 7.2 EAP and open source editions and deploys in seconds. UMP is also certified by SAP for NetWeaver deployment and is deployable on SAP NetWeaver 7.x all the way up to 7.4.
UMP 3.2 is also supported on Docker containers and the official images will be available on the Docker Hub shortly.
Related tools: A brand new Unvired Modeler works hand in glove with the UMP infrastructure to enable development of applications easily. The modeler is installed as an Eclipse plugin with auto discovery of UMP development landscapes. Model, Design, Develop, Debug and Deploy from a single place.
There is much more to talk about the new UMP. Watch this space for a series of blog posts that will expand on each of the features and how exactly you can benefit from it.
Stuart Baker is the head of maintenance of a large manufacturing company. Stuart is attending his monthly meeting with his maintenance leads and his operations assistant Shelley Hudson.
Shelley has spent the last week compiling the data required for this monthly meeting. Shelley dreads the last week of the month when she has to compile these reports from various data points in the SAP system – top 10 spends, cumulative vs. planned costs, top 10 visits, labour vs. material costs, backlog job orders, etc.
Stuart asks his maintenance leads about the repeated same locations visits, huge backlog of job orders and cost overruns.
The maintenance leads complain about the inefficiency in the system – technicians having to drive across plants to collect their job orders, time taken to fill their PM audit documents, lack of work breakdown by technician, delay in status reporting from technicians and may others.
Shelley complains about the amount of time she has to spend compiling all this information for a week every month.
Stuart has heard these complaints before. He wants to bring in efficiency in the system and change the way his department works. He has heard about mobile apps and starts thinking if he can get all his maintenance data – orders, notifications, warehouse material movements and reports on mobile devices on demand anywhere any time.
Stuart approaches his IT head Andrew Hughes. He explains his problems and proposes mobile apps. Andrew knows about mobility but wonders if their company is ready for mobility. They have not done mobile projects before. So he asks for a week’s time to do his research before giving an answer to Stuart.
Andrew’s research leads him to lots of mobile apps, mobile devices, MDM, etc. in the mobile heap. He finds lots of mobile apps for EAM. He reads about the business challenges these apps solve and the benefits. But this does not satisfy him as he is thinking of a sustainable mobility strategy, holistic solutions and the approach to mobility.
Does this sound like a familiar problem you have faced while embarking on mobility for Enterprise Asset Management? This is a common challenge that many organizations have faced.
We would like to solve this puzzle for you. So we have prepared a comprehensive check list that helps you with your mobility readiness check for Enterprise Asset Management. Unvired mobility check list for Enterprise Asset Management is a compilation from experience in implementing Mobile EAM for more than a decade across the globe.