While chatbots are the latest new craze, the concept of interacting with a business system has been around for a long time. Back in 2002 I wrote an email monitoring system for a retail customer who was sending reps and managers out into the field with Blackberry devices. When the manager was about to visit a set of stores they would simply send an email request to a selected address such as: email@example.com along with a subject of: “STINFO store#”.
Once the request was received a background process would be triggered to parse the subject line, build a sales report and then format the data as HTML and send it back as a response. Theoretically a PDF, Excel, CSV or other attachment could be sent back as well in response to a query.
Fast forward sixteen years and we apply the term “bot” to just about any automation process. Since the term “bot” is used so heavily today you might call this request/response scenario an email-bot or mail-bot. I used to call it poor-man’s client/server because a request could be created and processed without opening up a web site or business systems directly to the web or other client application. This also allowed for a nice layer of security. As long as responses are always being returned back to the same authorized requestor email address and that address has been validated, chances are data can’t be compromised. Also since the mail-bot can only respond to a limited set of scenarios, it’s threat vector for being hackable is reduced.
A mail-bot pattern essentially works like this:
An email request is received by a monitored address containing a from address and a request in the subject line or email body.
Once the mailbox monitor process picks up an inbound email message, the message is parsed, information is validated and then a response is compiled if the request is from a valid email address.
A formatted response email message or file attachments are then returned to the requestor.
There’s a little more to it than what I described above, but if you’re thinking about creating a chat-bot, you might want to first do a proof of concept project using the mail-bot pattern to see if your logic is sound and if your customers will get value from such an information request method.
No matter whether you’re using an RPA tool or coding a custom business process the mail-bot pattern can help your team be successful interacting with vendors, employees and customers.