• By Joy Santamarina

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto!


For most of us of a certain age, that title phrase immediately conjures up childhood memories and possibly a start of a last song syndrome that will ring in our minds for days on end.

From “Short Circuit” to “Wall-E,” from “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” to “I am Mother,: from “Transformers” to “Avengers: Age of Ultron”— and others too many to mention — we have been enthralled by movies and stories about robots. Of late, these have become a bit more dystopian as people imagine the worst possible scenarios of robots taking over humanity in the oh-so-near future.

The robots have not taken over so far. But in these Covid-19 crazy times, the push toward digital transformation has never been greater. Many companies have turned to productivity suites that offer online collaboration, video conferencing and other digital solutions to address the immediate and growing need brought about by the many lockdowns and distancing protocols being implemented worldwide. Guam and the Marianas have not been spared.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is one technology that can increase productivity without need for a big platform investment. Simplistically, RPA is a productivity tool that allows users to configure one or more selected tasks in a fast and automated fashion. Typically, RPA bots can be categorized into three: process bots, information bots, and interactive/social bots.

For the most part, people are more familiar with information bots and interactive/social bots. Think of Netflix and how it seems to recommend just the right movies and series. That’s a good example of an information bot which aggregates historical viewing preferences and pushes the next best ones to further hook viewers into watching more. Chatbots and virtual assistants such as Alexa are interactive/social bots which try to mimic conversations as it responds to requests.

Guam businesses can stand to gain from having some of these bots in their operations. Process bots can automate and do in seconds what can take hours to do manually. Most businesses have bespoke systems that don’t talk to each other and employees constantly need to download reports only to re-enter these to another system. These types of processes are a great candidate for a process bot. Those with websites or even a Facebook page can have a good interactive/social bot (aka chatbot) to better engage with customers. If a site has ran out of stock on some items, a good information bot can recommend the next best option to the customer so sales can still be achieved.

As in any technological deployment though, there are some basic ground rules. For small and medium businesses who want to venture into this, there are two quite practical ones.

First is to think before you build. As an example, don’t put a bot in a broken process – you first need to simplify the process, arrange the data structures, and then build the bot to make it even more efficient.

The second one is to make sure you do not build and forget. You constantly need to develop the parameters and “intelligence” of these bots, if what you have is not a machine-learning one.

A pet peeve of mine are the Facebook and Instagram chatbots that simply respond with their website link, say “I’ll get back to you!” but never do, or push range of information unrelated to my query. It’s the worst kind of engagement experience.

At the end of the day, we still need to configure and code the bots to work the way we want it to. A lot of the seeming excitement and discussion around this technology is in the realm of the possibilities of what it can do once super AI intelligence levels are reached, and self-learning and predictive mechanisms are in place. Sounds like magic but it is not yet available to most today.

However, businesses can make sound investments in this technology with the customers in mind to engage them better, make internal processes faster, and increase overall productivity and efficiency. If these are achieved, then one can certainly say “Domo Arigato, Mr Roboto!”

Joy Santamarina is a consulting principal in the APAC region specializing in the telecommunications, media, and technology industry. Send feedback to joysantamarina@gmail.com

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