Software is at the heart of almost every business today
Digital transformation is opening the door to information and services for billions of users, enabling new innovations, and improving living standards for everyone.
The application economy allows us to check our health, book travel, arrange our finances, socialise, and be entertained – all from a mobile device.
However, change is in the air. There are billions of apps available, yet downloads are falling. The answer to this change in consumption lies not in mobile’s lack of popularity, but the rise of voice-driven computing.
Look who’s talking
Voice-driven computing has come a long way. Amazon’s Echo can perform more than 3,000 skills and is used by three million people already. Apple’s Siri, Google’s Now, and Microsoft’s Cortana are also making their way into homes.
Speech recognition error rates are remarkably low. The Economist reports that Microsoft’s speech recognition system recently achieved parity with human transcribers.
A new era is emerging. One as transformative as the move away from complex command lines to the advent of icons and touchscreens. Voice has the power to transform computing, introducing a natural means of interaction and potentially eliminating abstraction of the user interface.
Chatbots: Now we’re talking
At the centre of this revolution is the humble “chatbot”: artificial intelligence (AI) embedded in a device that acts on voice commands. They can be found in voice-activated, automated interactions with call centres.
Coined as “conversational commerce”, the ability to talk to brands and companies through chatbots is on the rise.
There’s good reason for their popularity – it’s faster and more convenient to speak into a device than keying in data. You can do other tasks simultaneously, such as cooking, or working out.
Brands such as Facebook, KLM Airlines and Domino’s are already using chatbots to reshape the way cutomers engage with them. If executed effectively, these innovations revolutionise the customer experience, eliminating often poorly coded Web forms and accelerating service delivery.
Achieving complete conversational commerce
The bot revolution is still in the early phase, but interest is growing among consumers and businesses. As it evolves, mobile apps may become redundant and chatbots will answer questions and perform tasks solely through speech recognition.
Does this amount to the death of the app? Far from it.
Services will be aggregated together, transparently to the end user. Following voice command prompts, inter-related services will communicate to provision requests. Such as booking a preferred airline, hotel and transport services for a meeting taking place in two weeks’ time.
Some services are already doing this. Assist’s chatbot aggregates apps such as Uber, and StubHub, so consumers can order a taxi or book concert tickets by messaging Assist via Messenger or SMS.
The focus is on enhancing the current sales model at a lower cost. Combined with powerful data analytics, it could offer an unprecedented personalised experience.
Service aggregation: The power of software
The model of aggregated services requires interoperability loosely coupled together, performing discrete tasks when called upon from separate systems. This is driven by a modern software approach. Functionalities can be expressed as a collection of services rather than a single monolithic application, shifting how developers approach enterprise architecture design. Think of microservices underpinning aggregated, voice-activated services as being like Lego. The way these small blocks connect to each other and form larger functional structures:
- Like Lego, they require IT architecture to be interoperable. Each block has standard bumps and connectors allowing it to connect to other blocks. Standards-based interfaces are the small bumps that make compatibility between the services possible.
- Lego blocks are also virtually unbreakable. Similarly, micro-based service applications provide a resilient and robust software solution that can endure the pressures and changing needs of business.
- No-one plays with just one Lego block. The value is in adding and subtracting pieces to build your own creation. Likewise, this modern software architecture allows businesses to compose flexible, convenient, conversational commerce services.
- Lego blocks are reusable, which means when one creation has served its purpose, it can be repurposed to build something else entirely. For instance, if all the red blocks represent customer information services, then you can disassemble them from one application and use it in another structure.
The imperatives for conversational commerce
As conversational commerce matures, organisations will need to adhere to certain technology imperatives.
Built for change
In the era of conversational commerce, speed matters. Agility enables faster innovation and response to market demand, keeping customers happy.
Agile practices are helping companies synchronise development work to business priorities, coordinate teams, provide visibility, delivering at a predictable pace. The core of successful agile adoption is a platform that helps plan, track, and measure work in a single, scalable, extensible source.
Reliable connectivity between data, people, apps, and devices is required to enable these services. Application programming interfaces (APIs) are a set of protocols that determine how one application speaks to another. They make it possible for services like Google Maps or Facebook to let other apps ‘piggyback’ on their offerings.
To make data sharing via APIs safe, reliable, and cost-effective, we must address critical security, system performance, and data adaptation challenges. API Management helps in the following ways:
- Integrates and exposes existing critical business systems as APIs, theoretically allowing services to talk to one another. Once the API has been published and authorised, a transformation layer is added that mediates between the different APIs.
- Enables companies to on-board and manage developers to create apps. Much of their value comes from developers who build the innovative services against these APIs. Developers can access a full-featured developer portal with ease, where they can discover APIs, then build and test apps against them.
- Secures enterprise data to meet compliance and regulatory standards and manage which apps, developers and partners can access APIs. Creates a trusted security layer, meaning APIs can only be accessed by trusted applications and users, combatting misuse or possible attack on backend business systems.
The use of voice-driven systems will accelerate when organisations can offer a frictionless experience. It will raise questions about privacy and security, however – a seamless experience will depend on apps communicating with one another, sharing personal data between them.
Identity-centric security gives authorised people access to the right data, while still protecting against internal threats and external attacks, preventing costly breaches. This risk-adaptive approach evaluates risk based on device, geolocation and user behaviour for any online transaction, and can initiate step-up authentication when the risk score exceeds defined thresholds. Moreover, it enables organisations to deploy credentials with the right level of security based on the app being accessed.
Drawing it all together
When Google Search first became available, it surfaced documents in seconds that would have taken a human operator hours, days, or weeks to find. Conversational commerce has the potential to be equally transformative.
The application economy will evolve into services comprising apps that are aggregated for the user: A single voice command to book a flight to New York will be synchronised with other travel, calendar, and scheduling services automatically. And that scenario only scratches the surface of what’s possible.
Gartner predicts that 85 per cent of customer interactions will be managed by chatbots by 2020. Organisations need to prepare themselves for the change that conversational commerce services will demand. It requires a systematic approach to agile ways of working, paired with strong API management and security controls to manage it.
About the Authors
Ian Clark is Vice President, API Management, EMEA, at CA Technologies. He is responsible for accelerating sales growth for the Company’s Application Programming Interface Management solutions across EMEA.
Peter Matthews is a Research Staff Member in CA Labs. Peter coordinates research activity between the R&D laboratories and academia. He is also leading the work on behalf of CA Technologies in the Service Centric Software Engineering (SeCSE) research consortium.