Aligning Business with Technology

Aligning business with technology seems like it should be the simplest task in the world. Yet, it’s astonishing how challenging it can become. Often, it feels as if the tension arises from balancing cost against quality, or in defining UAT metrics that engineers can aim for. However, the issues can be much subtler than they appear.

Several years ago, before Webio, we worked on a webchat widget that utilized intent recognition to decipher customer inquiries and deliver appropriate responses. We dedicated considerable time and effort into training an IBM Watson data model to understand these questions and offer the answers. Concurrently, we developed an agent console to facilitate these conversations. All this was undertaken within an innovation lab, which aimed to revamp an outdated platform.

We pursued both tasks with enthusiasm. We located datasets, trained the AI, constructed workflows, and refined our strategies. We also determined contracts, calculated costs, and simultaneously, developed a state-of-the-art (for its era) extensible, restful API agent console, employing every conceivable framework and library to ensure its excellence.
Eventually, we secured a client. During our meetings, the client expressed significant excitement about becoming one of the pioneers in their industry to adopt this AI technology. Upon completing the product, we showcased it. The AI performed impressively; its intent recognition was almost flawless, save for the rare misunderstanding.

However, a pivotal moment came when one of the senior managers, who had been our staunchest supporter, assessed our work. She commended our achievements but then posed a simple question: “Wouldn’t it be easier for the customer if we just used buttons instead of intent recognition?” And she was unequivocally right. It simply streamlined the process. Consequently, we chose to retain the AI, but relegated it to a backup role, favoring a menu-driven interface. The overriding metric for success was usability, and this change aligned with that goal.

From that experience, I’ve consistently employed a balanced approach: using intent recognition for intricate queries and opting for buttons when only a few common questions are anticipated.

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