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Data Bots

By Steve Jones,

One of the challenges for many databases is getting the information out to our users. Early on many of us had to write queries in a customized fashion for our users. Eventually, reporting systems, such as Reporting Services and Crystal Reports, have been used extensively in many organizations to ease the burden or getting information to users, sometimes even allowing self-service where users write reports. Those are inefficient systems, where a lot of man-hours are spent to create something for users.

Certainly some efforts are made to allow users to query data in an easier fashion. English Query in SQL Server didn't work well, but the version in Power BI seems to do some things well. Perhaps it's because a user can see some of the data and the domain of data being queried is inherently limited. I expect this to improve as services such as Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and more become embedded into more applications.

The bots are coming. I used to wonder, but the more I see the advances made in machine learning and related technologies, the more I think that we will continue to see bots used as a way to access our data. There is plenty of hype, but certainly the technologies are being used more and more, and increasingly sophisticated ways. Plenty of businesses are experimenting with them, though it seems in many cases the technology is in an early stage.

I haven't been sure where bots are useful, but I see them more and more in places like Slack where a workflow can be kicked off with a chat operation. This is somewhere between running a script with parameters and using a semi-intelligent agent, but certainly the ease of a bot in places like Slack is very interesting. Operations can be easily conducted, with logging and auditing, and feedback, in a way that a CLI doesn't quite work as smoothly.

Perhaps it's because the domain of actions is more limited, I think that ChatOps works better than general purpose bots. I expect that that will change as we find ways to both limit the scope of interactions, perhaps by passing more information along to the bot. I'm certain the context technology for bots will improve, as well the interaction design. In some ways it's exciting to think about bots being more focused and responsive than today's customer service representatives. The one thing that I do worry about is the ability to get an empathetic response from a human. A person is more likely to go the extra mile or do a favor than a bot.

 
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