Will chatbots simplify PLM user experience?

Will chatbots simplify PLM user experience?


Last year I’ve made a crazy prediction that your next PLM workflow manager will be a bot. As much as crazy the idea was last year it looks like serious now. Enterprise software companies are investing into development of chatbots. Earlier today, my attention was caught by Deloitte University Press article – The conversational enterprise. Here is an interesting “signals” indicating the trend:

In the last 18 months, conversational user interface (UI) start-ups have raised over $200 million; in Q2 of 2016, more money was raised than in the entire previous year1. Enterprises across a diverse range of sectors, such as financial services,4 retail,5 and oilfield services,6 have deployed chatbots to automate internal workflows or business-to-business interactions. SAP,7 Oracle,8 Salesforce,9 and ADP10 are developing chatbot UIs for their software systems

Although the most straightforward use case is B2C and communication with enterprise customers, I’d not just to conclusion and dismiss PLM chatbot use case. Here is another interesting passage from the article outlining the benefits of chatbots for the enterprise:

Chatbots have a number of potential benefits over traditional GUIs. First, they can simplify applications for users. For example, rather than navigating through an interface or website to find information, users can just say or type what they want. Users can also compress multi-step tasks into a single command, such as, “Get my list of open opportunities this quarter, and send it to Janet.” Second, the conversational UIs that chatbots offer may require little to no training, given that they understand and can interpret natural language and translate it into actions. Third, users can leverage chatbots to operate several business applications at once. For example, users can invoke multiple chatbot actions in conversation with team members at the same time.

Combined, those benefits allow for non-expert users to interact with many complex applications in an intuitive fashion in a single interface. This gives rise to powerful automation opportunities, where chatbots trigger actions and orchestrate processes across a range of applications through the course of dialogue in natural language. The business impacts can include reducing costs by increasing self-service, improving end-user experience and satisfaction, delivering relevant information faster, and increasing compliance with internal procedures.

To me UI and User Experience is the most interesting case. PLM user experience is extremely complicated. An average operation in traditional PLM system is always 10 clicks away. As I mentioned in my article few days ago, vendors have made lot of work claiming user interface improvement, but in fact it was a lipstick on a pig. I explained in my article why PLM user experience is not done. The problem is that software vendors are trying to solve user experience by starting from existing technologies. This is a wrong approach. The starting point should be a new concept for user experience and only after that, vendor should think about technology to support it.

“Conversation” is an interesting way to communicate. It can replace complex and clunky UI with a number of clicks and mouse movement. It can be available in a seamless on a different devices and doesn’t need large monitors to perform. The following video brings a number of examples from Kore the technology allowing to build enterprise chatbots

What is my conclusion? Chatbot can be an opportunity to rethink PLM user experience. The devil is in details. But a combination of NLP with chatbot integrated into PLM product can be powerful. Do you think PLM vendors are ready to rethink user epxerience paradigm? Time is coming to play with PLM chatbot. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased


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  • Shreyas Bhat

    I completely agree with your observations, Oleg. I really believe costs of training and consulting in the PLM world need to be seriously addressed. Chatbots make a compelling case for enterprise software especially for engineering/manufacturing companies where teams work on the software briefly and then a few weeks/months elapse before they get back to the software. I’ve had to train & re-train several engineers/managers in my past life, every few months for this reason.

    We’re working on what we believe is the PLM industry’s first chatbot, PLMBot, to alleviate the pain/cost associated with training (www.fuseplm.com).

    While consulting cannot be completely replaced in the PLM world, there are aspects of it that can be automated through a chatbot interface (viz. identifying the user environment / performing data prep for migrations etc..). We’re also looking at expanding our Chatbot’s capabilities from being just an assistant to being a ‘virtual PLM consultant’. We’re optimistic that this area is going to gain heavy traction in the coming months/years.

  • Daniel Bacon

    You can see this in action on the Saleforce platform right here.

    The demo is geared towards CRM, but it would not be much of a stretch to use it for anything on the salesforce platform.

  • beyondplm

    Daniel, thanks for sharing!

  • beyondplm

    Shreyas, thanks for comment! PLMBot? Very intriguing… Do you mind to share what do you have today?

  • Shreyas Bhat

    Oleg, we’re about a month or so away from our first release of FusePLM and will have content on our website, then relating to PLMBot.

    The initial release of PLMBot will focus on our Task-lists and change management module (creating/viewing your tasks; creating/viewing/approving ECRs/ECOs/Issues). I’ll be happy to post a note on this blog upon release.

  • beyondplm

    Thanks! Look forward to see what you guys will release. You can reach me out at oleg @ beyondplm dot com when you ready.

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  • Shraavya

    I agree with the tenets and the conclusions that you have drawn. I believe chatbots still have ways to go and are still in Generation 1, the exciting future of transactional and conversations commerce with deeper NLP capabilities will be the tipping point. Do read our collection of blogs at Engati, test our platform and provide us feedback at http://www.engati.com – you can also register and build your bot for free in 10 mins and publish it across 8 platforms simultaneously including a web chat widget.

  • beyondplm

    I think, an initial hype about chatbots is over. But there is no doubt about the need to have a better user experience for PLM systems. Especially search, share, data navigation, change management.

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