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Google Buys AI-Powered Chatbot Startup

Onward has been developing natural language technology to make it easier for enterprises to automate their service desks

Google said Tuesday it had purchased a small startup that enables companies to deploy chatbots that integrate with their service and sales platforms.

Onward, founded in New York in 2015 before relocating to San Francisco, looks to help businesses automate many of their interactions with customers to speed processing of help tickets while reducing headcount.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Prior to the acquisition, Onward had only received $120,000 in funding, according to Crunchbase.

[Related: Salesforce And Google Forge Strategic 'Preferred' Partnership]

Founders Pramod Thammaiah and Rémi Cossart started the company to capitalize off advances they saw a few years ago in machine learning, recognizing the emerging potential for natural language interfaces.

Initially, a consumer technology company called Agent Q, the Onward founders shifted to an enterprise solution as the use cases for businesses became more apparent.

"Throughout this journey, we’ve remained focused on unlocking the magical experiences that are possible when computers understand the subtleties hidden in a user’s actions and messages," the company posted on its blog.

Google's channel partners often sell CRM products compatible with its productivity tools, like Copper (formerly ProsperWorks), which markets itself as a customer relations solution purpose-built for G Suite integrations.

Onward's technology shouldn't create any competitive pressure for those ISV partners, said Allen Falcon, CEO of Google partner Cumulus Global.

The deal, instead, "looks to fill a competitive void," Falcon said, "given that Microsoft has a set of chatbot tools in their ecosystem."

Salesforce also recently launched natural language tools to streamline customer interactions with its chatbots and CRM portfolio.

Onward has suggested criteria for gauging the success of a voice-enabled service platform—40 percent of tickets and 40 percent of messages with customers should be automated, and customers should enjoy a 40 second average response time.

The startup's technology can be deployed to power simple chatbots that provide basic information, or it can be used to build comprehensive workflows powering more-advanced customer interactions.

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