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Bring on the Bots for Cisco Spark

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If you haven't heard about Gupshup yet, but are interested in how you might use chat bots in your collaboration initiatives, you might want to get to know the company. Gupshup entered the Cisco collaboration realm today with an announcement that it is integrating its bot platform with Cisco Spark, giving developers an easier way to build advanced bots within the Spark ecosystem.

The news comes as Cisco Live kicks off in Las Vegas. This annual event, which draws some 28,000 attendees, just so happens to include a focus on collaboration this year.

As Rowan Trollope, SVP and GM of Cisco's Internet of Things and Collaboration Technology Group, told me in a conversation late last year, he thinks bots are going to be the next big thing. With such a vision from leadership, it should come as no surprise that Cisco is making moves to make bots both easier to develop and more accessible to businesses, large and small.

"Transforming the collaboration experience is about bringing people together, giving them quick access to critical information and the ability to share and communicate in real-time," said Jason Geocke, GM of Cisco's Tropo Business Unit, in the press release on the news. "Providing our customers and developers access to Gupshup's intuitive bot platform will create customizable experiences that enhance Cisco Spark's capabilities."

I spoke with Gupshup CEO Beerud Sheth ahead of the event to get in the know on the company and learn more about the rising bot trend. "Gupshup," Sheth told me, is Hindi for chit-chat. So let's have a little chit-chat about Gupshup and its bot platform.

If you've been following developments coming out of Slack, Twilio, Facebook, and Cisco , to name a few, you likely have been hearing more and more about chat bots. Messaging and bots represent the next movement in communications technology, and chat bots represent "a major paradigm shift," he said. "Those are big words; I don't use them lightly."

When we moved from PCs to Web, the browser became the new platform and websites the new applications, Sheth said. Then a decade later, we moved to smartphones and mobile operating systems became the new platform, with apps serving as a way to customize experiences. "This time, the messaging app becomes the new platform ... and you will be able to do everything you want to do right from within the messaging app. And on the other side, you will have software programs that can send and receive messages, and we call them bots or chat bots."

People are "all apped out," Sheth said, elaborating that with the application paradigm, not only do you have barriers like cost and time to build applications, but people simply don't want to download an app for everything anymore. And if you look at how people are using applications today, it's all about messaging. "And if that's where people are, why not bring the whole Internet into messaging?" Sheth asked. That is one of the reasons that chat bots are rising in popularity, he said. "These are software programs that can go where the users are, inside messaging apps."

But building bots can take considerable development effort, including determining parameters around channel integration, publishing, hosting, and monitoring. This is where the Gupshup bot platform comes in, enabling developers to focus on use-case specifics by eliminating some of the common tasks.

Gupshup has been around for years now, but started with a focus on bots for SMS, evolving as other messaging applications began to gain ground, like Facebook Messenger and now Cisco Spark. "We were working on bots before they became fashionable," Sheth said.

As you may have read on No Jitter, Cisco recently announced a partnership with IBM to integrate its cloud-based collaboration solutions and infuse them with IBM Watson advanced analytics platform. Sheth said he sees the Cisco-IBM partnership effort as complementary to Gupshup's collaboration with Cisco. Developers creating advanced functionality will be able to incorporate artificial intelligence and natural-language processing capabilities into collaboration applications by connect the Gupshup bot platform to Watson, he said.

While today's announcement focused on Spark, Gupshup integrates with other messaging platforms, including like Slack, Sheth said. Such integration is possible since Slack opened up its APIs for bots several months ago.

Regardless of your messaging platform of preference, bots could be the answer to many of the interoperability woes that businesses with heterogeneous technology environments encounter, Sheth suggested. "Bots let us make all the backend systems work together," he said.

Bot-to-bot communication can take information from one system and tie it to another, reducing and even eliminating silos. To me, that might be where I'd expect the highest value of advanced bots to emerge, but I suppose time will tell.

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