How To Choose The Right Chatbot Software For Your Business
And Which Solutions Meet Your Requirements Of Functionality & Scale
One of the challenges deciding on chatbot software is that issues regarding scaling and functionality are often not evident at the start of the project.
Only when you are down the road and committed to software the issues emerge.
Chatbots are not one monolith of technology. There are different aspects and elements of each solution which may be stronger or weaker.
Depending on your particular implementation, your requirements and what is important to you may also be different.
Hence it is only prudent to have a segmented approach in looking at chatbot frameworks critically.
Looking at the different technologies and how they are evolving, there are a few clear trends emerging…
These trends include:
- The merging of intents and entities
- Contextual entities. Hence entities sans a finite list and which is detected by their context within a user utterance.
- Deprecation of the State Machine. Or at least, towards a more conversational like interface.
There are both horizontal and vertical growth with chatbot technology. From the diagram above it is clear where this growth is taking place:
Vertical — Technology
The Conversational UI is moving away from a structured preset menu and keyword driven interface. With movement towards natural language input and longer conversational input.
Horizontal — User Experience
In this dimension the bot is transforming from a messaging bot to a truly conversational interface. Away from click navigation to eventual unrestricted compound natural language.
The Digital Employee
The end-game is where the digital employee, emerging from the chatbot environment, has evolved into areas of text and speech.
With contextual awareness on three levels:
- Within the Current Conversation
- From Previous Conversations
- From CRM & Other Customer/User Related Data Sources
The digital employee with grow across different mediums and modalities. Mastering languages with detection, translation, tone, sentiment and automatically categorizing conversations.
Mediums will include devices like Google Home, Amazon Echo, traditional IVR and more. As we as humans can converse in text or voice; similarly the digital employee will be able to converse in text or voice.
Chatbot Offerings Rating Matrix
In rating the eight chatbot solutions I looked at nine key points. Obviously NLU capability is key in terms of intents and entities. I was especially harsh on the extend to which entities can be annotated and detected contextually.
Dialog flow (state) development and management are also a key points; ease of development is important and to what extend collaboration is possible.
The other elements are self explanatory.
For different organizations, disparate element are important and will guide their thinking and eventually determine their judgement. For instance, even-though Lex does not feature in many respects, if a company is steeped in AWS for other service, Lex might be the right choice.
The sames goes for Oracle.
Graphic Call Flow / Dialog Development Tools
For larger organisations and bigger teams, collaboration is important. Ease of sharing portions of the dialog and co-creating is paramount. Hence organizations have a need for graphic development environments. Other teams prefer a native code approach.
You will see that Microsoft has a fast growing and expanding bot framework environment with tools to match. What is attractive regarding Microsoft, is the native code approach within the Bot Framework coupled with the GUI of Composer. All underpinned by the exceptional power of LUIS.
Natural Language Understanding underpins the capabilities of the chatbot. Without entity detection and intent recognition all efforts to understand the user come to naught.
On some elements of a chatbot environment, improvisation can go a long way. This is not the case with NLU. LUIS has exceptional entity categorization and functionality. Watson Assistant can also be counted as one of the leaders, with RASA.
I also looked at the the integration of the NLU components into the other chatbot components. This is where Microsoft excels with their growing chatbot real-estate.
Maturity of any framework is tested in an enterprise environment where implementations with diverse use-cases and ever expanding scale are present.
Enterprise readiness is an evaluation criteria which does not enjoy the attention it deserves. Once vulnerabilities are detected, too much money and time have already been invested in the technology.
It is impossible to compare frameworks on a one-to-one basis, hence I created the five points of consideration as seen in the image below.
It must be noted that one or more of these five elements are important to an organization. Hence that may draw them into a certain direction.
If a company is already heavily invested in Oracle Cloud or AWS, then that will be a huge deciding factor for them. Overriding other considerations and easing the pain of other shortcomings.
Cost plays a big role, and that again speaks to the accessibility of environments like Cisco MindMeld and RASA; especially for initial prototyping.
This is a mere overview based on a matrix with points of assessment I personally deem as important. And again, based in how important a particular point on the matrix is to you or your organization, will influence our judgement.
In the final analysis the software is to serve a purpose in your organization and current cloud landscape. The offering best suited for that purpose is the best choice for you.