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Bots, bots everywhere!

This article isn’t going to look at anthropomorphic robots but the bots that communicate with other users of internet-based services, via instant messaging type apps or via chat dialog windows on websites – ie, chat bots.

The increasing use of chat bots has interested some of the big players, like Microsoft, to conduct studies to more fully understand how people actually utilise messaging apps and services. Microsoft’s own study found that 85% of smartphone usage is channelled through just five regular apps. These apps all had a strong focus on messaging, so…

Rather than compete with these ‘top 5’ apps, which are often messenger services, Microsoft suggests organisations offer a service such as a chat bot using an existing service such as Skype, Facebook Messenger (over 1 billion users), Apple’s iMessage, or Whatsapp.

When I first started looking at examples of chat bots in the real world I was surprised by how many are out in the wild. Natwest bank for example have been trialling a chat bot for a while, as have some of the new disruptive tech giants, like Uber, who have embedded a bot in their chat app. Technology has even reached the stage of bots that support you in ordering a pizza!

Closer to where we are in social housing is the embedding of a chat bot utilising machine learning into a proposed 111 NHS app. Capita has been working on this bot with the NHS for a while and I was lucky enough to see a live demonstration of it at the start of the year. What I saw really opened my eyes to the possibilities of how we could embed chat bots into our customer interactions in social housing.

We could use a bot to guide someone through the process of making a housing application, get a bot to log a repair or even use a bot to provide low level customer advice!

I’ve been hunkered down with the techies and have been developing an example of a repairs logging bot that I have shown a couple of housing organisations as a proof of concept. Even this fairly limited bot really begins to expose the promise and potential that bots could bring within housing.

Its early days for this technology, but again, the rapid rise in the use of bots out in the wider world suggests we shouldn’t be complacent in social housing, and should instead look to embrace this opportunity for lower level enquiries and transactions to be shifted to a digital self-service bot, freeing up skilled humans to deal with those tricky and sticky situations we come across every day!

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Stewart Davison

Business development manager, Capita Software

Having worked in UK public sector software, across a wide range of industries, since the early 2000s, Stewart is responsible for introducing new Capita products and services to the marketplace. His background is in process re-engineering, business analysis and software product design, having led the housing software product team in creating solutions across web, mobile and back office.

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