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So you've automated, now add bots

Automation is great, remember the time you used to spend copy and pasting information into Word documents or PowerPoint presentations for a pitch? Remember zipping up binaries and attaching that zip file to a change request so that an operations team could release your code? We've come a long way regarding automation over the last decade, but we have further to go, way further.

The examples in the opening paragraph are of point automation solutions, the repetitive (and therefore more erroneous) are done for the user. This saves them valuable time and reduces errors, but there are a few small flaws.

  • The staff responsible for the systems doing the automation are inundated with requests to do basic tasks; "where's my build?", "can you update this information?"

  • There is little clarity in who is responsible for handoffs between these systems or the requirement to log into each system to perform any human approval steps.

This is where chatbots and persistent chat rooms can really enhance the user experience.

The first chatbot I ever worked on enhanced the experience for developers when using a deployment system. Developers couldn't be given access to update variables on a release in case it had already gone to production. The DevOps team (where I was working) were asked at least 3 times a day to complete the operation of updating variables on a release that hadn't yet been deployed in production on their behalf. That involved:

  • logging into the deployment system,

  • finding the release,

  • checking that it hadn't been deployed to production,

  • and clicking the button to refresh variables.

This sort of operation was ripe for Chat Bot automation. Unfortunately, back then, that meant:

  • selecting a bot framework,

  • hoping I knew or learning the scripting language it was based on,

  • customising it,

  • finding somewhere to deploy it,

  • then supporting this new code and infrastructure.

This meant that custom Chat Bots were reserved for incredibly technical teams with a free remit of what they worked on, or large scale customer experience initiatives.

Fortunately, platforms like Workato make creating incredibly rich, engaging Chat Bots a piece of cake. Once you get to grips with creating them the possibilities are endless.

Take the example from the opening paragraph - creating documentation and slide decks for a client pitch. Your salespeople shouldn't have to be in the office to click the buttons to create that documentation, how many more clients could they see if they could generate all needed collateral from within the Microsoft Teams or Slack mobile app?

Or imagine you're a developer who's just committed some code; you shouldn't need to go to the build system to check its status, then go to the deployment system to deploy it and so on. Your chatbot could...

  • Detect that you've pushed a new version of your code

  • Create a temporary chat room

  • Invite collaborators or reviewers

  • Give you your build status

  • Ask if you'd like to deploy it to a development environment

  • Ask if you'd like to generate a change request

  • Invite CR signatories

  • Invite a member of the ops team

  • Give that member of the ops team a button to deploy to production

In this example, all the governance check gates are completed, all the signatories are involved, and all the manual control is retained but the entire process and all the handoffs are tracked, accounted for and in one place.

What we've done in this example is turn some automations and a chatbot into a Development Experience Platform. You could do the same with your HR processes and create an Employee Experience Platform. The possibilities are only limited by your offline processes... Surely you don't have any of them anymore?...


About the Author

James Bashford is a proudly Neurodivergent Technologist with over 15 years experience across the Financial and Energy sectors working in Enterprise Architecture, DevOps and Support Roles.

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