APIs are often seen as a technology only but they are the essential infrastructure to enable any new User Experience (UX). In this case, they are called User Experience APIs or UX APIs.
VPAs and Bots
VPA mean Virtual Private Assistant and they are the new kid on the block with regards to UX. Their names are Cortana (Microsoft), Siri (Apple), Alexa (Amazon), Google Home. Not only those voice-based assistants got a good push in the last few months, but also bots have been on the rise for some time now. These bots are usually responding to keyboard and chat on Twitter, Facebook or WhatsApp to provide quick and easy replies for customers.
Take the example of the Lufthansa Bot which allows you to have a chat via Skype or Facebook asking for flight information. Just by introducing this bot, Lufthansa might be able to reduce their call center costs and increase customer satisfaction with its 24×7 availability. No queues, no delays and maybe good enough for the first inquiry.
Quite recently I read an article talking about the fact that already 10 big Banks like (Bank of America, Santander, Capital One,…) are using some type of chatbot today. Not all are looking only into providing you the next ATM but also allowing you to suggest banking products or even provide guidance with your assets. That’s where robo-advisors were born and are currently being developed. Guess what, a lot of people would trust a robot more than a human because the robot would do a more fact-based decision. If that’s true we don’ know yet, as it will be programmed by humans.
APIs again bridging different worlds.
The tech behind the connection of this new UX and your existing infrastructure is nothing less than REST APIs. Most bots and voice-based assistants have been implemented to reach out to existing REST-based APIs to interact and query information. In the case of Lufthansa, the bot calls an existing flight search and pricing API. So, it’s turning out that APIs are not only good for mobile but also fulfill the promise of being a good long term investment.
Can I simply reuse my existing APIs?
Well, like always it depends. As you might imagine not all APIs are built with the goal to connect them to a VPA. Also, there might be other constraints. Some APIs might have been built from scratch fitting into the API-first pattern but others might have just been inherited from products itself. Thinking it further, a place to do API orchestration makes sense to combine, filter and modify the different sources.
What do I need to build a chatbot or voice-based assistant?
To build a BOT, you will need to get a developer account with the platform of choice (Amazon Alexa, Twitter, Google…). On this platform, you will execute the setup of your bot and configuration to your backend APIs. To expose those APIs, you need a security proxy or API Gateway. If you don’t have APIs that you can use out-of-the-box, an API Orchestration Tool comes handy. More details on how to build a BOT using the Axway Appcelerator Platform can be found in the Developer blog posts about Twitter Bot and Alexa Skill:
As a conclusion, the ever-changing number of frontends and UX requirements are just about to explode and it turns out that APIs provide a solid infrastructure to build upon today’s and upcoming requirements.