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Let's Take Digital Workplace Chatbots to the Next Level

April 29, 2020 Collaboration and Productivity
Dan Hawtrey
By Dan Hawtrey

Artificial intelligence (AI) remains a hot topic in the media, where the focus is usually on the big picture and what the future holds. However, for those of us working to improve the digital workplace, AI is already here, helping employees with their working day.

Much of the initial AI efforts in the workplace have been with deploying chatbots and conversational user interfaces. There is still huge interest and potential here. For example, a survey from the Digital Workplace Group found that while a quarter of organizations had already deployed a chatbot, 56% of organizations were planning to do so in the next 18 months. Our customers continue to express interest in this area, helped by the continuing momentum of Microsoft Teams where chatbot integrations make a lot of sense.

How Are Chatbots Being Used in the Workplace?

While chatbots in the digital workplace are in their ascendancy, collectively we’re still at an early stage of maturity. Many organizations have chosen to work on relatively simple and straightforward use cases, such as:

  • Helping employees find what they need, making the chatbot essentially a conversational interface to an existing search capability or a facilitator of guided navigation with choices at each step.
  • Performing simple, personalized transactions that remove the need to go to different systems, such as the ability to view how much annual leave an employee has and book more through the bot.
  • Acting as the first line response for IT or HR service desks in an effort to encourage self-service and a more efficient way to log tickets, saving time for both the user and help desk staff.
  • Acting as a convenient interface for popular searches and transactions for frontline or deskless workers who access digital services via mobile devices, where bot interfaces work well.

Related Article: Chatbots Belong in the Workplace (Provided They're Well-Designed)

Is it Time to Take Chatbots to the Next Level?

Chatbots have huge potential and as user confidence and experience grows, it’s time to take chatbots the next level. There are several reasons why the timing is right:

  • Users are more accepting of chatbots as a standard feature in the enterprise technology landscape, and are also more accustomed to them in the consumer world outside work.
  • Digital workplace teams have implemented them and are growing in confidence, and correspondingly stakeholders are also seeing the value.
  • Natural language processing continues to improve through underlying frameworks like Microsoft’s LUIS.
  • The availability of more products that leverage chatbots “out of the box.” For example, ServiceNow includes a bot in its IT Service Management product. LMS365 includes a bot to help users find training.
  • Individual bots with machine learning are being trained and have improved understanding as a result, so it’s possible to build on the scope of an existing bot.
  • Overall, bot technology is becoming easier to use for the citizen developer. For example, Microsoft Virtual Agent is a big improvement on the Microsoft Bot Framework.
  • We’re also seeing greater adoption of workflow tools like Power Automate and Nintex Workflow — which enable bots to connect and interact with other systems.

Related Article: 7 Ways Chatbots Help Digital Workplace Workers

3 Directions for Chatbots

I see three different potential areas for chatbots to move forward:

  1. More intelligent automation leveraging workflow across multiple applications or coordinating complex business workflows where multiple people give input. In this scenario the bot acts as a runner, coordinating different parties.
  2. More personalization that factors in people’s roles, profile data, preferences and actions.
  3. More voice activation that also starts to align the physical and digital workplace.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

More intelligent automation

Bots are a great way to connect the dots on more complex workflow and automations that use multiple applications but also require different people to complete tasks. For example, a bot could help manage meetings by taking into account diary availability, suitable meeting rooms, the urgency of tasks that have been set from project sites, as well as information about previous meetings held with the same people, such as dietary references. All this could involve intelligent automation that automates booking meetings by taking data from multiple systems and then simply asks the organizer to verify its actions.

Similarly, intelligent automation could help to automate heavily complex business workflows, for example assessing the risk associated with a new supplier or reviewing a new policy. A bot can play a part in initializing the workflow, but also then reaching out to the right people depending on different criteria, nudging them to complete a task, often in a more conversational and engaging way than an email notification that could get lost in an inbox.

Related Article: The Intelligent Digital Workplace Is Already Here

More personalization

Chatbots have a powerful role to play in making suggestions for actions and nudging employees with reminders. The more relevant and timelier these are, the better. But for this to happen bots need to act upon highly granular personal information such as a person’s profile (role, location etc.), their preferences, and recent actions. For example, a bot could ask you “Shall I add details of your recent project to your employee profile?” and then do it with one click.

More voice activation

As Alexa and similar devices get normalized in homes, voice activation in meeting rooms and other areas is likely to become more prevalent. For example, could a bot speak to you in a meeting and retrieve information for you while also reminding you that the room booking ends in five minutes?

Related Article: 6 Success Factors for Workplace Chatbots

Seizing the Potential of Digital Workplace Chatbots

AI and chatbots in the digital workplace are here to stay. We’ve bypassed the novelty and the experimental phase, and are starting to see chatbots that help employees get things done and drive efficiencies in areas such as IT support and HR. We can also see chatbots taking advantage in the huge leap in adoption of Teams. Let’s build on the promise, seize the opportunity and start to implement chatbots that add even more value.

About the Author

Dan Hawtrey is the Managing Director of Content Formula, a consultancy that designs and builds intranets and digital workplace tools on the SharePoint and Office 365 platforms. He has written extensively on most topics related to the digital workplace for many years on the Content Formula blog.

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