Enterprises want to add Alexa-style interfaces to apps

Conversational interfaces a la Alexa, Siri, and Cortana top the list of tech trends companies want to incorporate in their software

Conversational user interfaces like Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Microsoft's Cortana have caught the attention of developers, with businesses now looking to incorporate the technology into customer-facing apps, consultant firm ThoughtWorks said in assessing recent technology trends.

ThoughtWorks' recently released Technology Radar report noted that conversational UI and natural language processing is a key emerging trend. Conversational UI refers to designs like intelligent chatbots, which can learn and improve over time, and voice recognition, which has had a dramatically improved error rate recently.

"The explosion of interest in the marketplace and mainstream media leads to a corresponding rise in developer interest," ThoughtWorks said. The industry has reached a tipping point, with machine speech recognition as accurate as humans are now, said Mike Mason, ThoughtWorks head of technology.

Multimodal interaction, meanwhile, is "the future of conversational UI," said Bharani Subramaniam, market tech principal for ThoughtWorks. "We're trying to push boundaries beyond voice and understanding the intent through hand movements, gestures, and facial expressions."

ThoughtWorks also cited what it calls "intelligence as a service," which encompasses capabilities like voice processing, natural language understanding, image recognition, and deep learning. "Capabilities that would have consumed costly resources a few years ago now appear as open source or SaaS platforms," the report said.

Developer experience is "the new differentiator," according to ThoughtWorks. A rapid rise in developer-facing tools and products combined with a scarcity of engineering talent is driving this focus. Steps companies can take include treating internal infrastructure (private clouds) as a product that needs to be compelling enough to compete with external offerings, focusing on self-service, understanding the developer ergonomics of the APIs produced, and committing to ongoing research of developers using the services.

The report mentioned pervasive Python as a trend as well. "Its ease of use as a general programming language, combined with its strong foundation in mathematical and scientific computing, has historically led to its grassroots adoption by the academic and research communities," ThoughtWorks said. "More recently, industry trends around AI commoditization and applications, combined with the maturity of Python 3, have helped bring new communities into the Python fold."

ThoughtWorks saw a rise in platforms as companies are examining how they can use platforms that can provide for self-provisioning and self-configuring via APIs, enabling developers to get features out into production faster. The term "platforms" can mean many things, Mason said. "A lot of people mean 'technical delivery platform for hosting applications,' which today usually means public or private cloud, AWS, Cloud Foundry, OpenShift, Bluemix, etc." But it could also mean a business platform where business capabilities are exposed as services.

Released twice a year, Thoughtworks' report looks at business strategy and software development trends; it is based on an assessment by the company's advisory board and factors in what the company sees at client sites.