When Slack Met NetSuite: How ChatBots Could Shake Up ERPs

A Canadian software consultancy has come up with a fantastic technology mashup which has very interesting implications for ERPs.

Business management systems, or ERPs as they are more commonly known, are incredibly complex and typically hard to use. But plug it into one of the simplest interfaces around, a chat app, and you have a very efficient way to see critical alerts or enter information.

Big Bang ERP ran a little experiment by building a sales chatbot in their work chat app, Slack, that connected to the company’s ERP software, NetSuite.

The chatbot was intended for sales staff on the go who wanted a faster way to create a new prospect in NetSuite, says Big Bang consultant Nicholas Urena. The original form was fairly detailed with numerous fields, and the sales exec had to open a browser on their laptop to fill it in.

Instead they could activate the NetSuite chatbot by typing “new lead” into the Slack sales channel. The slackbot would then ask for basic information such as company name, email address, phone number and street address.

The slackbot then creates the lead in NetSuite and asks if the sales exec wants to assign the new lead to a teammate. The chatbot can also add the lead to an opportunity and show a list of opportunities created that week, with a link directly to the pipeline in NetSuite.

You can see a demo of it here. Watch how a sales Slackbot creates a lead in NetSuite

The concept works so well for two reasons. Most obviously, everyone knows how to use a chat app. Even the most hopeless Luddite can type in a box, hit Enter and watch the text appear on the screen. You don’t even need to know computers – SMS on your mobile phone is essentially the same thing.

And Slack works really well on a smartphone. It has a very detailed notifications setup – for example, you can receive an audible alert on your phone if a message contains a particular keyword.

This addresses the user interface, one of the biggest issues with business management systems. You can custom design simpler interfaces for users depending on their roles, but this can cost a lot of money if you have multiple role types or make frequent changes to how they operate.

By comparison a slackbot is relatively simple to create and program. (Plus ERP programmers cost a lot more than Slack programmers.)

The second advantage is that ERPs like NetSuite have a well developed and relatively open API, or the interface which lets the program talk directly to other programs.

Big Bang ERP’s sales slackbot is just the beginning. You can set up a slackbot to show data or enter data into any of the modules in NetSuite, says Mark Rhyman, co-CEO of Big Bang ERP. These include manufacturing, inventory, finance and accounting, retail, e-commerce, and so on.

You could have multiple slackbots for every department in the business.

Here are three ideas:

  • A manager could set up an approval process for paying bills over $10,000.
  • Bank feed automation is very slowly arriving to ERPs which will slash the time spent on bank reconciliation (yes, even though they have purchase orders). An internal accountant could set up a Slackbot to send notifications for unmatched transactions.
  • If supply of a key raw material falls below a minimum threshold the operations manager in a factory could receive a notification on their smartphone to order more.

ERPs were heading this way anyway with highly customisable mobile interfaces. The classic example is a tablet-style interface for picking stock in a warehouse. But Slack gives you an easy way to send text messages direct to smartphones without spending the money on customisation.

Just as bank rules in bank reconciliation are becoming more sophisticated, so too could these Slackbots. Slack effectively becomes the communications backbone to the ERP.

When I spoke to Big Bang ERP at the beginning of this month they were still testing their Slackbot internally. Customers are already interested.

If you’re using Slack and an ERP, spend a bit of time to think about how it could work for you. It could be well worth your time.

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