Last week, at a tech meet up in Bethnal Green, a group of developers, entrepreneurs and the general tech curious came together to get their heads around all the excitement and hype surrounding the forth coming ‘rise of the bots’.  ‘Bots’ one excited digital engagement manager informed me, ‘will be everywhere by the end of the year’

But what are bots and how will they be everywhere if even techy people know very little about them?

Bots are software robots and they help you do many of the things you are used to doing on your laptop, phone or tablet but easier. For example, a software bot might be used to simplify ordering a pizza by allowing you to WhatsApp your order in the form of a conversation:


In some respects this looks like a step back why am I engaging with Pizza Planet via text on WhatApp?

The key development here is accessing a service through an app you already have on your phone. No need to find and download Pizza Planet’s app just make contact in an interface you are familiar with. In some ways this is a natural progression from Apps, we are now app overloaded, there are millions of Apps on the App Store and Google Play yet most of us use only a handful. Removing the need to access a dedicated App is removing a barrier to engagement and adoption.

Speaking like Machines

And removing barriers to adoption is the key area of innovation that makes the bot space really exciting. Remember ‘Ask Jeeves’ the search engine? Its unique feature was asking a question using natural language as you would ask a person a question. ‘Ask Jeeves’ didn’t (in theory) require us to learn the way a search engine understands information – accept it turned out Jeeves wasn’t all that clever so we resorted to learning how Google understands information- Google does not like full sentences it likes key words. This technology has now massively improved so that machines are much more capable are understanding what we mean when we ask questions and make statements in our language. This is a massive step forward as it means increasingly humans will not need to learn to think like machines to engage with computers.

What does this mean for UK housing?

Bots are about to make technology accessible to anyone who can articulate a question or a request. Most of your residents are able to say my boiler is broken but less are able to navigate to your website find your app, download it and request a maintenance job. Bots lets people use natural language to engage with you.

They also allow people to communicate and receive services from within an interface they are familiar with- sending a text, a WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger message is an everyday occurrence- using a housing provider self-service app is not.

So what does the future look like?

Maybe something like this:

Tenant: can you tell me how much rent I owe this month?

Housing provider: you owe £450 you can pay by clicking here or if you need any help or advice with your finances just ask.

Tenant: I will have trouble making that amount this month is there anything I can do?

Housing provider: I have slot tomorrow afternoon if you would like to come in and discuss a payment plan


While this looks like a conversation with a human customer support agent it is actually a conversation with a computer. Bots will be able to access data on your residents stored in your housing management system to provide answers to common questions and action work when requests are made. Whats more the bots will be able to learn about your tenants through their engagement offering money or debt advice based on records stored in your housing management system or insights gleaned from previous interactions.


Moving Beyond Text

Siri has brought the ideas of a voice controlled assistant to the mainstream but its uptake has remained limited as users found that anything outside of a basic repertoire of commands led to a google key word search.

The principle behind Siri, one platform that can understand context and help you with anything is a powerful one but it is only recently that a critical mass of service providers have opened up APIs to allow bots to connect with 3rd parties and become really useful. A new arrival to the voice controlled intelligent assistant world is Viv. Viv can handle complex spoken requests such as “Was it raining in Norwich three Thursdays ago” and also handle payments, from a housing perspective you can imagine a future where all a resident needs to do to access a landlord’s services is to ask their smart device.