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Enterprise Chatbots on Skype for Business

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With the steady growth of chatbots in the B2C space, platforms like Skype, Facebook, Kik, Line etc. have all started supporting chatbots. The launch of the Microsoft Bot Framework provided a streamlined process for the development of bots on several such platforms.

But when it comes to the B2E and other enterprise scenarios, the story is a bit different…

Skype for Business is the chosen enterprise Instant Messaging (IM) and Unified Communications (UC) platform for thousands of businesses worldwide. It in fact, enjoys the largest market share in this space. However, as a messaging platform, Skype for Business does not support bots out of the box.

After our recent and incredibly successful launch of MeshBOT which is an Enterprise Intranet Bot for SharePoint, and is available as an embedded experience within a corporate intranet we decided to upgrade the scene for Skype for Business as well.

World’s First Bots on Skype for Business

Late last year, we had rolled out several enterprise bots for our customers on channels like Teams, Skype etc. However the ask was always for Skype for Business as the bot channel. We went about evaluating this option and finally created our own Skype for Business bot connector. By leveraging UCWA (Unified Communications Web API) and using Bot Framework Direct Line API, we developed an enterprise ready connector for Skype for Business. We currently have several bots on Skype for Business in production.

  • This connector can be deployed in Azure and enables a secure bot communication channel on Skype for Business.
  • We support both, Skype for Business online (Office 365) and on-premise as well.
  • We are currently working to support clients that use Skype for Business 2015 on-premise and older Lync versions.

There are many enterprise bots that we are building in what we call the “BotVarsity“– A place where Bots learn and train before being joining an organization 🙂

Below is a screenshot of one of our bots running in Skype for Business

Acuvate Albot running in Skype for Business

Below is a high-level architecture diagram.

High level architecture

I am very happy to say that we can now support Skype for Business channel for any bot out there.

Skype for Business as a client application does have a few limitations in enabling a great bot experience.

  • Bots need to communicate with users using not only text, but images, cards, buttons and more.
  • Currently Skype for Business client doesn’t support a rich bot experience.

There are ways to work around this — providing a choice of options instead of buttons, using the inbuilt HTML markup support instead of cards, and sending file attachments instead of images etc.

Apart from running your bots on Skype for Business, our connector also supports attachment conversion. This means that buttons, cards and carousels are converted into text based options for user to choose from. The connector also supports broadcast messages and triggers so that the bot can proactively message users.

It is important to note, however, that the benefits of this channel far outweigh the current limitations. We expect that Microsoft will soon be releasing updates to the Skype for Business client that are certain to make it more bot-friendly. We have an amazing team of Azure architects, .NET ninjas & Office 365 experts who are working round the clock in order to bring the best of our innovation to our clients.

We would like to thank the amazing people at Microsoft. The invaluable information they have shared all over the internet in the form of forums, blogs, MSDN, GitHub has greatly impacted our journey towards becoming the first company to launch Enterprise Ready Skype for Business Bots!

Enterprise Chatbots on Skype for Business was originally published in Chatbots Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: Chatbots Magazine

magnoliaEnterprise Chatbots on Skype for Business

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