Emerging technologies: Bots, bots everywhere!

30 March 2017

An article by Stewart Davison, Head of Business Development, Capita’s housing business

Stewart Davison, Head of Business Development, Capita’s social housing business

So, second in my short series of bite-sized blogs since Housing Technology Conference 2017, this post features the rise of the robot!

This article isn’t going to look at anthropomorphic robots (so no Terminators, iBots, or those disturbing DARPA, animal based robots - they freak me out! View here)

No, in this blog I’m going to focus on bots that communicate with other users of internet-based services, via instant messaging type apps or via chat dialog windows on websites – i.e. 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 suggest 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!


In my next post… From the Terminator to Robot Amelia: could your next housing officer be virtual…?


Read the first in the series - Headless Interfaces



To find out more, contact cssenquiries@capita.co.uk – we’d love to hear your views or plans when it comes to emerging technologies, and to discuss our work in this area with you further