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Bots, disruption and the advent of conversational commerce


Bots are disrupting businesses and industries by changing the way consumers buy products and services.


Take a good look at the people around you. If Governments and Academics are correct then the jobs of between a third to half of the people you’re looking at, and at least a third of all of their organisations will be replaced and usurped by machines within just twenty years.

The likelihood is they’re right.

Although you might not have realised it at the time your job and your company first came under threat was in the late 90’s when the first E-commerce site popped onto your screen. Your first transaction was your first glimpse into a new world – a world where everything was on demand and where everything was served up from behind a screen.


Everything on demand

Yesterday you were buying books. Today you’re ordering content, groceries, holidays and a billion more products and services.

While the glass hasn’t changed much in those twenty or so years the technologies behind it have and at an exponential rate. Today we’re in the middle of the equivalent of a platform gold rush as executives within companies of all shapes and sizes rush to build out their own multi sided platform companies.

But they’re falling into the age old trap they’ve fallen into a thousand times before – just as we saw with the race to Digital and Cloud executives are still predominantly focused on where the market is today rather than where it’s headed tomorrow and despite their unquestionable success the traditional multi sided platform is already turning into yesterdays news.


Building the new frontier

Bear with me, I know it’s a frightening prospect – especially for everyone who’s spent hours putting words like “Network Effect” and “Platform Economy” into their strategy decks.

When we think of platform companies organisations like Airbnb, Alibaba, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Uber as well as a few others instantly spring to mind but in tomorrows world some of these organisations, who are often lauded as disruptors in their own right could be some of the first to feel the effects of the new disruption.

Ironically it’s the Digital Native Organisations – those organisations with few physical assets or processes that rely on “inter connectedness” that could suffer the most because they’ll be the easiest to be disrupted and disintermediated by the new type of platform – the “Conversational Commerce Platform”, CCP for short.

CCP’s not only represent the future of commerce but they also represent the future of Machine to Machine (M2M) and Human to Machine (H2M) transactions, consequently their potential to disrupt and turn almost every organisation on Earth into a dumb pipe is almost limitless.

Yesterdays first generation CCP organisations started life by embedding basic instant messaging based mass market communications tools into their pre-existing multi sided platforms. Nothing more, nothing less but today, powered by Artificial Intelligence and fuelled by Big Data these tools are getting smarter and it’s this that tips everything, and then indirectly the future of employment and business on its head.

Today there are two companies leading the charge into this new frontier. Facebook who have been busy integrating WhatsApp into their platform and Tencent who have been doing the same with Wechat. Both of these communication platforms, with over a billion active monthly users each are evolving into what we’re coming to call “Smart Assistants”.

Some people call them Bots, others call them Personal Assistants and while their goal is to “Simplify our lives” they will, over time, also change how we all interact with technology – forever. After all, in the year 2050 did you really think we’d all still be whipping out a smart phone and logging into an app to order a cab? How quaint and there’s the crunch.



Not to be left out of the Smart Assistant party Amazon has Alexa – sometimes described by Jeff Bezos as Amazon’s “Forth Pillar”, Apple has Siri, Google has Google Now and Microsoft has Cortana but unknown to many people outside of the developer community, and in a further hat tip to our new Smart Assistant overlords, Google and Apple are already in an arms race to kill the App with both companies prothletising at their WWDC conferences that what users really want are phones that behave more like Personal Assistants rather than a “Bag of Hammers”. After all, do you want an App or are you more interested in the outcome? Do you really want to use Yelp or do you really just want to find a great place to eat? Are you really bothered about using Google Calendar or do you care about being at the meeting on time? And so on …

Despite their efforts and their deep pockets though none of these organisations can boast anywhere near the same number of active monthly users, seamless platform agnostic integration and therefore impact as Facebook and Tencents current CCP’s and additionally, and perhaps more importantly, none of them want to risk angering their shareholders by cannabalising existing revenue streams. That fact alone will inevitably quench some of their enthusiasm to race these new technologies out to their user base as fast as Facebook or Tencent.

For example in 2015 Apple’S App Store bought in over $20 Billion in revenue so what’s the impact on Apple’s share price if consumers suddenly no longer need to download apps to access information and services? And if you were an Apple shareholder would news that Apple just killed a $20 Billion revenue stream please or anger you?

The real power of Smart Assistants is that they can instantly change how we, en masse, interact with entire industries – from insurance to retail, healthcare to transport and banking to utilities and as the clock counts down organisations not already planning their way through the next disruption will have relatively little time to start making the turn – in many cases just a few years, not decades.


Japanese researchers unveil their stunning "full body DeepFakes"


Every company is a dumb pipe

In the past we interacted with the employees of companies we were interested face to face or over the phone and in the as the internet matured we complimented these behaviours with chat windows. Technology evolved again and the people behind those chat windows were replaced by first generation bots then the web went mobile and our behaviour changed again. Suddenly the chat windows were usurped, replaced by mobile instant messaging tools such as Facebook, WeChat, WhatsApp and Twitter but ever since their first debut in the chat windows those bots have been getting better, faster, smarter slowly turning into the first generation of Smart Assistants we see today.

Now, at the heart of the network and more importantly, at the heart of the consumer experience these Smart Assistants with access to a previously unimaginable amount of information about you and your lifestyle are in a position to help you make better decisions and, most crucially simplify and automate your transactions and purchases and by doing that they have the potential to reduce every company that sells a product or a service into nothing more than a dumb pipe – every CEO’s worst nightmare.

These Smart Assistants are already plugged into your life and it’s easy to argue that they already know more about you than most of your friends or relatives. They’re trawling the internet for information not just about you but also your family, your network of friends and your professional acquaintances, affiliations and associations. They’re plugged into the sensors in all of your devices and API gateways give them an increasing amount of access to a multitude of other systems and platforms, from CCTV systems in cities and stores to the wearable on your wrist and even the murmur of your heartbeat.

By churning through thousands of data points they know your lifestyle, your socio-economic situation and your behaviours. As for how companies who own the bots want to use this information we can loosely categorise it as an attempt to “Provide you with a Smart Assistant that simplifies your life”.

So you might say that simplifying your life is a good thing and I’d have to agree with you. From making sure you make your meeting on time to getting the best deal and, most importantly, “getting time back” it all sounds great and it’s that convenience, combined with the results they produce that help accelerate their adoption.


Let’s disrupt Uber

So first, and just for fun at this point let’s disrupt Uber – the $60 Billion Kingpin of Disruption. Today WhatsApp is our weapon of choice but feel free to choose a different one – after all there are alternatives, Alexa perhaps?

“Get a cab to take me to Waterloo,” you say. Using GPS your Smart Assistant already knows your location, preferences and spending behaviours. Using API calls, which for even more disruptive impact could be linked to the Blockchain (another topic for another day), it searches for the nearest licensed cabs, weighs the options and negotiates the best price. A minute later a cab, potentially a driverless cab, arrives. You get in and arrive at your destination. Your Smart Assistant automatically pays the fare, concludes the transaction and files the receipt for the journey into your expenses wallet.

In this scenario and billions more like it’s the Smart Assistant commenced the transaction, decided which cab company to use and then concluded the transaction, not you and all without your involvement. Consequently who’s to say it was an Uber cab that arrived and if you’re a business there’s the rub, you’ve just been reduced to a dumb pipe, one commodity service among thousands, your value adds potentially wiped out in an instant.

Suddenly the organisation who owns and codes the Smart Assistant’s algorithms has the power to decide, or dictate which service providers they use to fulfil your requests.  As Smart Assistants mature their ecosystems will grow and we’ll be able to use them to fulfil more transactions and then our relationships with today’s service providers will have changed forever.


“Buy the cheapest 40 inch TV and deliver it to my house.” Done. But the retailer might not be Amazon.

“Order my prescription.” Done. But the retailer might not be Walgreens.

“Order my groceries.” Done. But the retailer might not be Walmart.

“Build me a clothing website.” Done. But no web design companies were involved.

“Find me a job.” Done. But LinkedIn wasn’t in the picture.

“Arrange a $250,000 mortgage.” Done. But the bank might not be Citi.

“Insure my car.” Done. But the insurer might not be Aviva.

“Get an emergency plumber.” Done. But the plumber might not be Homeserve.

“Call Brian.” Done. But the communications company might not be Verizon.

“Switch my utilities to the cheapest provider.” Done. But the company might not be EDF.

And so we can go on …



Call them what you will Smart Assistants are ushering in a new era of disruption but this time it will be on an even bigger scale than past disruptions but while we will see this as a new form of disruption Generation Z and Alpha will simply see this as the new normal.


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