Getting started with the new Watson Assistant Part IV: preview, draft, publish, live

Now that you’ve created your first virtual assistant, let’s look at the tools you’ll use to improve it and manage its lifecycle.

By | 8 minute read | February 11, 2022

Watson Assistant

Congratulations! Your virtual assistant made it into the world, and it can successfully guide your end users through a complete action. It’s already started growing into the dynamic communication solution you envisioned. Recall that in Part I of the Getting Started series, we encouraged you to take a walk-run-fly approach to building your assistant. Today, we want you to think of your assistant as a toddler that’s just beginning to walk.

First steps

Before we get into teaching your assistant how to fly, we want to highlight one of the major advantages of your build environment: once you’ve added your integrations, configured your settings, and deployed your assistant to your website, it’s there forever. You can now update your assistant all you want without ever needing to redeploy it! When you publish a new version in the build environment, all your changes automatically appear in the live environment. That’s the power of IBM’s cloud.

Now the focus is on improving and publishing your assistant’s content. With that in mind, let’s talk about the management of your assistant’s lifecycle. Ensuring the long-term health of your assistant requires analysis, iteration, and reiteration. To empower you to achieve this ideal flow, we’ve designed Watson Assistant with two separate environments: the draft environment where you can continuously preview and update your content, and the live environment where users interact with the latest iteration of your assistant.

You’ve already gotten a taste of how these environments interact during the initial build of your MVP (mapped out in our previous Getting Started posts). Today we’ll walk you through updating your assistant by touring your dashboard’s pages in the following order:

  1. Preview
  2. Draft environment
  3. Publish
  4. Live environment

Mastering the dashboard and the relationship of the two environments is the key to a long, healthy life for your assistant. Let’s get started.

Meeting the family

Previewing content is woven into the entire build process. The test panel in the Actions editor lets you measure your assistant’s ability to complete actions while you edit its content. The test panel saves you time by letting you test actions without leaving the editor. But once you’ve constructed a conversation you’re satisfied with, you’ll want to preview how your assistant will appear on your website.

The Preview page shows what your users will experience when they interact with your assistant on your site. Click the Preview icon (the play button in the menu) to access a test page with your assistant’s web chat home page surfaced, the same way it would be on a live site. Select Add background website (the button with the ‘+’ icon) and enter your organization’s URL into the field to see the assistant’s home page against the backdrop of your home page.


Now you can see your assistant exactly as it will appear to your users. The assistant home page in Preview displays your assistant’s custom name and greeting, the suggestions you’ve added to the home page to funnel your users into actions, plus whatever custom design changes you’ve added (e.g., background color).

The left-right navigation menu at the top of the preview web page features three powerful tools for refining and improving your assistant. Customize web chat features a quick link to the web chat editor, where you can edit your assistant’s UI elements to match your brand’s design, update or alter your assistant’s greeting and conversation starters, and enable or disable suggestions.


The Preview page is also home for the preview link, which you used earlier to share the first version of your assistant with your colleagues. This link is a permanent feature of Watson Assistant and is available to share with your colleagues throughout its lifecycle. Any time you make changes to your assistant’s content in the draft environment, those changes are reflected in the preview URL.


The staging ground

When you enter the draft environment, you see an overview of the architecture of your assistant, starting from the channels where users input requests, leading through to the resolution methods that Watson leverages to guide users to the conclusion of actions.

The Channels side of the panel shows you where your assistant is configured and deployed. (Reminder: the web chat is configured for you “out of the box.”) To see the full suite of available integrations, click Browse catalog above the web chat tab. This will take you to the Integrations page. From there, you can open and edit your web chat in either the live or draft environment, connect your web chat to a service desk integration, and activate the phone integration.

The integrations page is also where you connect your assistant to third-party apps like Slack or SMS with Twilio, and where you can embed search into your assistant by adding Watson Discovery and its advanced data mining capabilities. (We’ll cover those in depth in forthcoming posts.) Once you add a new integration, it appears in the draft environment page with a setup status indicator. Adding channels in the draft environment allows you to test channel integrations before deploying them to end users.

Pro tip: Channel configurations and environment settings are not updated automatically when publishing a new version. They must be manually configured for each environment.

The Draft environment page also provides a timestamp on your latest draft edits and a quick link to your draft content. Click that link to access your actions editor and edit your content prior to publication. Once you’ve added all your preferred channels and updated your actions, it’s time to progress to publication.

The ignition button

You received your first taste of the Publish page during the initial build. You’ll return to it often as you continue to revise and improve your assistant’s content. In addition to being the point of publication, the Publish page provides an overview of both your unpublished content edits and a comprehensive version history.

Once you click the Publish button at the top of the page, all the listed Modified content enters the live environment. The revert feature, located next to the publish button, allows you to overwrite your unpublished content with that of a previous version. This is highly advantageous for situations where you’re dissatisfied with your recent edits and decide to start over with your latest version.

Pro tip: You have the option to add a description for each version before publishing. Doing so allows you to differentiate between versions, which will make things easier if you want to revert to a previous version.

Once you hit publish, all your draft content is cleared out of the changes field. This gives you a clear point of reference for whether any new content you’ve written is still waiting to be published from the draft environment.

The far side of the page contains a Version history listing previously published versions of your assistant. This feature allows you to switch between live versions of your assistant. This feature only affects the live version of your assistant, not any unpublished content.

The larger world

The layout of the Live environment is identical to that of the draft environment, tracking your deployed channels and resolution methods. The difference is that everything you see in this field reflects content and integrations that are available to your end users, including which version of your assistant is currently live.

We’ve made it easy to switch between versions of your assistant in the Live environment. The overview shows you which version of your assistant is currently live. Click the Published content field to open a grid listing all your published versions. Click the version you want to switch to and select Switch version. This feature switches the live version without affecting any unpublished content.

You can also change or update the configurations of your various channels by clicking them and making updates from there. Again, you can accomplish all of this from within Watson Assistant without updating any code on your website.

Learning to fly

At the beginning of this Getting Started series, we recommended confining your MVP to one channel and one domain of your business. By now you probably understand why we describe MVPs as toddlers taking their first steps. They need guidance (an infusion of your domain expertise) in their early stages, and experience (interactions with users and consistent content iteration) to build on their initial training and become the most mature versions of themselves.

Now that you’ve built your first assistant and know how to maintain and improve it, you can begin training your assistant into the complete one that you envisioned, one that can handle any user’s request at any phase of their journey.

To identify where your assistant can improve, your most powerful tool is the analytics page. You got the flyover view of it in the initial build. Now that your assistant is live, the analytics page will begin tracking your assistant’s ability to successfully contain users within actions. Containment is the ultimate goal of building actions and will be your “north star” when you set out to refine your content.

In forthcoming posts we’ll cover common conversational patterns, leveraging analytics, and adding integrations. In the meantime, take advantage of the various training materials at your disposal:

  1. The Watson Assistant Learning center – You can access shortcuts to all of these materials and more right from your dashboard. Just look in the upper left hand corner.
  2. The Getting Started blog series – This was the last of the series, but we have many more pieces of content in store for you.
  3. The new Watson Assistant documentation – All that you would expect from the manual behind the product.