The future of bot building
Lili Cheng is the Corporate Vice President of Conversational AI at Microsoft whose work has impacted hundreds of millions of users, millions of developers, and has also co-authored over 100 patents as companies increase their use of artificial intelligence to accelerate their digital transformation.
In the last year, we have seen tremendous growth in the number of people working and living online, with over two-thirds (74 percent) of Chief Financial Officers planning to permanently shift employees to remote work once the COVID-19 crisis ends1. As the workplace constantly evolves, workloads continue to grow and capacity constraints rise, organizations look to bot experiences powered by AI to manage the greater urgency to meet, and exceed customer and colleague demands. However, 68 percent of executives report a skill gap of developers and AI experts to reach those aspirations2. As a result, tools like Microsoft Power Virtual Agents are being used to empower everyone to create intelligent bots, embedded with AI to provide human-like experiences, regardless of the makers’ AI or coding skills.
The approach to developing bots is evolving across organizations through a term coined “fusion development”, a topic increasingly popular with our customers and partners. Microsoft is invested in empowering all developers, from citizen developers and business users to professional developers as a means to implement bots across low-code and pro-code platforms.
What is fusion development?
Gartner® describes digital fusion teams as “multidisciplinary digital business teams that blend technology and other types of domain expertise”3. With this growing trend, Gartner also claims that at least 84 percent of companies have set up fusion teams. This reinforces the importance of collaboration between IT and business for successful technology delivery.
The rise of fusion teams in many enterprises’ operating models today testifies to organizational boundaries blurring at an accelerated rate, with 43 percent of fusion teams in large enterprises already being led by team leaders who report outside corporate IT3.
The fusion development approach values the knowledge and abilities of different members across the multi-disciplinary team gaining significant synergies through efficient communication, autonomy, and development in an agile fashion.
The evolution of bot building
Conversational systems were, until recently, the exclusive domain of specialized vendors and data scientists. Organizations are now progressively opting in for bots to be built in-house by developers. With the shortage of technical skills and the need for subject matter experts to directly author the bot content, it has become even more critical to democratizes aspects of the bot development lifecycle to those closest to the process.
With this shift, fusion bot development has helped drive collaboration across pro developers and subject matter experts. As a result, the need for technologies to have the flexibility to support several personas to create and maintain bots has grown. In turn, the demand for unified bot-building platforms has intensified.
What is Microsoft doing to help?
Microsoft believes that the key to creating successful bots and delightful conversational AI experiences is through enabling and empowering such fusion teams to support all skill levels across low-code and pro-code platforms.
We started our journey in enabling fusion team development for our customers back in 2019 where we announced new integrations for low-code application development through Microsoft Power Apps.
With feedback from our customers, the next step was to support fusion teams for bot development. Power Virtual Agents provides the tools to achieve this through a simplified and scalable platform via a SaaS service. This provides the ability to build and host bots and fully support sophisticated capabilities for pro developer technologies such as Bot Framework Composer and SDK.
In May 2021, we announced the better together integration between Power Virtual Agents and Bot Framework Composer. This enables pro-developers, subject matter experts, and citizen developers to build and easily extend bots with code inside a single, hosted SaaS solution. This functionality has seen widespread adoption as pro-developers can accelerate their developer velocity whilst democratizing SME workloads without compromising quality. This SaaS service also provides a consistent infrastructure such as AI behind the scenes to enhance bot development, not possible in just developer-focused tools.
We have also announced capabilities to allow both Power Virtual Agents and Microsoft Azure Bot Service to be used as skills bidirectionally. For example, Azure Bot Service skills can be used with Power Virtual Agents hosted bots as well as in preview, the capability to leverage Power Virtual Agents bots as a skill to Azure Bot Service. This allows makers to ensure that they have the ability to use the tools that best work for their unique needs.
Customers accelerating their bot-building with fusion teams
“With Power Virtual Agents, the real winner is this relationship between IT and the client that is harmonious and allows each party to do what they do best to make a good product without the workload of either party being shoved on to the other.”—Jeffery Kozera, Senior Automation Developer and Integrator, City of Ottawa
“Our IT team put the framework in place, but from then on, employees from each part of the business can continually decide how the bot should answer questions related to their function. We can be a lot more productive and efficient with multi-authoring in Power Virtual Agents. It becomes a real team effort.”—Kim Rometo, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Miami Dolphins
“Even without a technical background…I helped to create a chatbot that legal team members now use to locate documents, FAQs, training materials, and videos. When Fady’s team (Process and Technology team) added Power Automate to its toolkit, team members’ ability to solve business issues leapt ahead.”—Marcus Holt, Legal Operations Trainee, Syngenta Group
We are thrilled that more people are empowered to build intelligent conversational AI solutions to overcome the AI skills gap, drive better customer and colleague engagement, and enable AI skills for all.
Join us to discuss building bots using fusion teams at Microsoft Ignite.
You can sign up for the Building Bots using Fusion Teams customer roundtable (9:30 AM to 10:30 AM PT) and share your thoughts.
²Susanne Hupfer, Talent and workforce effects in the age of AI, Deloitte, March 2020
³Gartner, Fusion Teams: A New Model for Digital Delivery, 4 February 2021
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