By Justin Kresse
Back in the fall of 2011, Adelphi implemented their very first chat system, the relatively inexpensive, yet comprehensive system by a company called LiveZilla that allowed anyone to live chat with an Adelphi representative and ask questions. However, in 2020 LiveZilla notified Adelphi that they were ceasing business operations.
After conducting an extensive search, the chat service replacement working group realized that a live chat system like LiveZilla was no longer feasible—all the current chatbot offerings used some amount of computer intelligence and programming so that the chatbot could respond to simpler questions without the need of a live representative. After a detailed vetting process, the company Mainstay—a higher-education focused chatbot platform—was chosen for the university to build their chatbot.
Mainstay provided Adelphi with the backend for the chatbot platform, as well as some initial “understandings” for the program: business intelligence solutions that allow the chatbot to automatically respond to easier questions. That allowed the team to work on creating more understandings specific to the university.
Charlie Kulins, Adelphi’s manager of customer experience, said, “We basically started from a point where we had close to 1,000 of these understandings built in.”
As of this month, there were around 1,600 understandings in the knowledge base.
The information in this knowledge base is not just coming from IT, though. Admissions, Registrar, Swirbul Library, the Faculty Center for Professional Excellence, and Student Financial Services have all helped to give information that prospective users might ask about.
In fact, Carol Ann Boyle, Chief Information Officer at Adelphi, emphasized that the entire chatbot project has been a team effort by many departments. Kerry Nicollet, the director of IT engagement, similarly stated that “this is a university communication tool.” It’s not just for the IT department.
One individual especially important in the coding of these hundreds of understandings is Vishesh Kadakia ’21, an Adelphi graduate student who graduated last semester. He originally got involved with the project by designing his own chatbot for a class project. His professor, Juan R. Jaramillo, associate professor of Analytics for the Department of Decision Sciences, reached out to the Innovation Center in Swirbul Library and they were able to get him involved with the project and integrate what he had already done with his class project into the chatbot.
Kadakia is still working to finish up the chatbot and help the larger Adelphi community understand how to use it to help their various departments, but after the soft launch early this semester—aiming for January 25th—he will be transitioning away to work for the marketing and public relations firm Hahn as a natural-language programmer.
One great opportunity that the chatbot team came upon as they neared the end of the process was finding a name for it. After some consideration, they decided to determine the name by using an Adelphi community-wide poll. There was a great response from the Adelphi community, who collectively chose the name Adele for their new chatbot.
Of course the process will not be complete even when the chatbot goes live. The team will have to continue working on new understandings and adapting to changes. Yet it is exciting to be nearing a point where the chatbot can go live to the public right on the Adelphi website homepage.