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A Deeper Delve Into CDW’s Bot-A-Thon


Bots are an amazing vehicle for workflow automation, especially when paired with a collaboration tool. So earlier this year, CDW ran a bot-a-thon. The concept was simple; build a bot and tie it into Cisco Spark as the interface. Participants would be judged on creativity and functionality - but the point was to help people discover the real value of bots and a method to automate work flow and in the process give them access to tools that could facilitate the creation and adaptation of bots within their own domains.

7 Bots Use Cases

To get started, we identified 7 categories of use cases for bots.

  1. External alerts. This includes updates for things like weather or news.
  2. Internal alerts. There alerts generally come from a management console and are pager-like alarm systems.
  3. Data retrieval and display. Typically this comes off as queries & systems that mashup results that could be used in the context of, say, a dashboard.
  4. Individual / team workflow. This might include automating repetitive tasks to optimize time.
  5. Business / enterprise process workflow. These workflows are more complex and might be helpful for HR, Sales, or Support and really delve into multi-step processes.
  6. Enhancement to the Cisco Spark app. This might look like pulling stats on who's posting what, how often resources are being used, or promoting tool adoption.
  7. Just for fun. Bots that tell jokes, play games, send photos, etc.

Someone experimenting on their own, might focus on category 7, but most of the bot-a-thon teams focused on categories 4 & 5, and nearly all teams used Built.io® Flow Enterprise. They gravitated to Built.io® Flow Enterprise because it enables people to produce complex flows that work with many tools and many steps without requiring a deep knowledge of programming.

A Breakdown Of The Top Bot-A-Thon Workflow Automations

The projects varied in complexity. Below is a quick overview of what was created:

  • General Company-wide Task Management: Combined Sharepoint Task, 365, Cisco Spark, and a response group through Built.io Flow Enterprise. While our team got their prototype working, it turns out that this idea was so good that Red Booth made it happen as well (they integrated into Cisco Spark for task and project management).
  • Contact center admin control: Combined a Cisco contact center infrastructure, various admin tasks, and Cisco Spark through Built.io Flow Enterprise Enterprise to allow for customized configuration and reconfiguration of contact center queues and agent settings via Cisco Spark.
  • Sales Dashboard: built on Node JS, created a live dashboard that used a bot to pull internal data and a service called Plotly. Any time someone closed a big deal, everyone got alerted by Cisco Spark.
  • Department Process Management: This team automated an internal process for QA bid assurance that included gathering files, posting to box,notifying the various team and approval people of pending actions, tracking who had reviewed or approved/rejected/amended which documents, then reporting status and updates back to Cisco Spark as the approval process progressed. They used Built.io Flow Enterprise to connect everything.
  • Medical Office Management: This team connected reservations, appointment reminders in Tropo, faxes got shared in a Cisco Spark room, used voice recognition through Tropo, connected APIs from Good RX and a major pharmacy. They used Built.io Flow Enterprise to integrate all of the working pieces.

The hypothetical medical process management tool won because of how complex the workflow was and how many different external activity sources were combined.

If you’re just automating one thing with a bot you’re not really solving a problem, you’re just changing the interface. - James Adams from CDW

The only exception to this is if the bot lives in the platform that you will utilize every single day. For example, I used to spend most of my time in email, now I have migrated most of my work from email to Cisco Spark so I have an easier time writing a flow because I don’t want to move interfaces - so having a bot in Cisco Spark that even just performs one repetitive, dull, or obnoxious task that can easily be automated is still helpful. But solving that one thing isn’t really useful to most people, my peers perhaps, but not within my wider organization.

To fully harness the power of bots, integration, or automation - what you really want to do is solve a complex problem that touches a lot of steps, tools, systems, or departments through automation. - James Adams from CDW

That’s precisely why the medical process management team won the bot-a-thon; it unified all of those parts of the business. It focused on using Cisco Cisco Spark and Tropo and then brought in a lot of steps across an entire day that might take place within a medical office. Reservations would show up in a Cisco Spark Room. Customers would get appointment reminders from Tropo. Faxes would get pushed as a PDF into a Cisco Spark Room. They connected APIs from pharmacy outlets like GoodRX and Walgreens, so that a medical staff member could request medication directly from Cisco Spark.

The key takeaway for me was realizing that automation and integration are really a process. Where you are in the scale of the automation process defines how you see its value.

This might be analogous to feeling hungry, so you walk out of your house to the place down the street to get a burger. But you’re hungry again tomorrow and you have no groceries. Next time you go to a grocery store, which is great because you have food to eat for the week, but you still have to assemble it, which takes time. So the next time you order takeout for delivery, then the next time you try a food delivery service that picks up pre-assembled goods. This is full automation: you’re saving time by having it come to you and you no longer have to spend time putting it together, either.

The same goes for the workplace. In the beginning, many processes are manual. You’re busy but you have to get it done, so it’s not such a big deal to spend hours making it happen. Then after awhile you start to see where there are repetitive steps and you're spending time fulfilling them when you should be doing other things, so you start automating simple tasks. Maybe reporting. Eventually you see that your report will help another team decide what they should do next, so you share it with them. Then you’re working together with tools that might not sync naturally. That’s when an integration tool and a lot of automation can come in handy.

The moment that bots begin to become useful is at the beginning of a journey towards automation - but the great thing about them and the tools that support them - is that they can scale with you as your automation becomes more mature. - James Adams from CDW

I’d encourage everyone to think about automating processes so that you can better scale your work and help with organizational health within your business.

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