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Oracle opens discussion on chatbot advantage for Africa

Oracle opens discussion on chatbot advantage for Africa

Oracle has conducted a week-long awareness drive around chatbot technology and the role it plays in transforming African business.

Chatbot Week Africa was organised for emerging markets to discuss the realities of Artificial Intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning.

Specifically, Oracle is using the roundtable sessions to shed more light on its mobile cloud enterprise platform that features self-learning chatbots that observe interaction patterns and preferences to automate frequently performed end-user actions; as well as smart bots enabled by machine learning for fluid conversations using natural language.

Craig Nel, Mobile & Cognitive Experience (MCX) Leader at Oracle Middle East, Africa and Turkey, said intelligent chatbots can better understand and process customers' requirements, and are now being positioned by businesses across the continent to attract more clientele.

Language preference and usage across Africa is one scenario in which the technology can make an immediate and lasting difference, according to Oracle.

The company likens the impact of chatbot technology to that of smartphone adoption and permeation in Africa.

"Companies from a range of industries will be impacted by intelligent chatbots in a similar way to the rise of mobile devices. Business-to-consumer use cases for chatbots are being seen in retail, financial services, travel and hospitality and even in utilities, for service-related and transactional conversations," said Nel.

"If you consider that the biggest portion of Africa is still pretty much working with feature phones ... really the intention is for everyone to access the functionality and benefits that it can bring. And so one of the key features of the platform is the omni-channel capability, including SMS capability as a channel of interaction with the bot," Nel continued.

Chatbots had its origins in a very structured conversation functionality according to Nel and today the technology has evolved with the application of AI technology at the back-end.

Nel stresses that the while the platform technology has its place and can offer specific benefits, it is not a solution for everything. "Each business would have to evaluate what it is they are looking for... what we have found is that call centres, for example, seem to be grasping the benefits on offer from this kind of solution."

Oracle's awareness drive is to reassure markets that are apprehensive in terms of the take-up of new technologies – South Africa is mentioned as an example and according to Nel remains somewhat skeptical and cautious in comparison to counterparts across the continent.

Recently, Helen Poiteven, research director at Gartner, explained in an article Why not work with a bot? How CIOs can shape the future of work in which most workforces include machines, that starting in 2020, Gartner predicts that AI will create 2.3 million jobs and eliminate 1.8 million.

"Organisations can no longer treat technology investment and people investment as two separate activities. CIOs must align technology with business context to support major changes in work and jobs, in organisational structures and in culture."

Poitevin added, "The interplay of people and AI is where CIOs can create most value. We are confident that learning machines, bots and robots will become increasingly pervasive in work, home and community environments."

Gartner analysts recommend that business owners create a strong governance policy for the use of machines, develop 'bot master' certification programs, update ethics and value statements that can be used as a tool for communicating machine guidelines and purchase robot insurance to protect against damaging failures.

"We urge C-level executives to consider particular scenarios not in terms of whether the scenario is 'good' or 'bad,' but in terms of who wins and who loses, and what is won or lost," said Poitevin.

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