Ideas on using API.AI to report information from BigQuery

Chip Oglesby bio photo By Chip Oglesby

If you’ve been paying attention to what I’ve written about lately, you know that I love automation and I love data!

I know that automation is a double edged sword, but I’ve always said that my goal was to automate myself out of a job.

If you’re the one building the tech to do it, that’s great. If you’re the one that gets phased out, that’s not good for anyone. But this post isn’t about the machine uprising. This post is about something fun!!

When we first started using BigQuery at work, one of the ideas I tossed out was the idea that in the future, we may sit in a meeting and be able to ask a device a question and get an immediate response. I didn’t think much about it afterwards then I got a Google Home for Christmas, SQUEE!!!

This little device was amazing. It just “knew” how to respond to so many different versions of the same question. How did it know? After doing some research online, I found that you can build your own conversation actions and that got my creative juices flowing. For example, could you build a way to query a database to get a result?

I found a service called API.AI that lets you build tools to do things exactly like this. So let’s play this out. In an easy example, let’s pretend that we’ve asked the question

“How much money did we make last year?”

Right off the bat, we know three things:

  1. We need to sum something
  2. What we need to sum is money
  3. The time that is needed is last year

That’s a pretty simple SQL that could be written in BigQuery. Let’s take a look at that:

  SUM(revenue) revenueTotal
  year(orderDate) == YEAR(DATE_ADD(CURRENT_DATE(), -1, "YEAR"))

In this toy example, we didn’t infer if the person asking the question meant Gross or Net Revenue. But with API.AI, we might set up some logic to respond to the person and ask them if they meant gross or net revenue. Then, depending on their answer, we could query Google BigQuery with different queries. You could also change the logic to update the WHERE clause to whatever is applicable to the question.

There are so many other questions that you might want to ask your assistant. For example:

  1. What’s our most popular selling product?
    • With a reply from the assistant: By units sold or revenue?
  2. How did our Adwords marketing campaign do last week?
    • With a reply from the assistant: Would you like new customer count or revenue?

Next Steps

On the surface this might seem pretty rudimentary so you may naturally try to figure out what’s next? Ideally you would want your application to not only report but to also runs simulations, make a prediction or tell you to probabilities for what your next campaign or product might be. This seems simple and straightforward but you can probably guess that something like this might be much more complex.

Until then we just have to keep taking baby steps and innovating as much as possible!

If you would like to learn more about conversation actions, watch this video: