At the Gartner Application Architecture, Development and Integration Summit in Mumbai last year, Van Baker, a research vice president at Gartner, told the audience that by 2020 over 50 percent of medium to large enterprises will have deployed product chatbots, which use artificial intelligence (AI) to mimic human conversations. As a result of their ability to use natural-language processing (NLP) to map a spoken or written input to an intent, chatbots are rapidly entering the digital workplace.

Chatbots in Digital Workplaces

Chatbots  suit the types of workflow behavior characteristic of digital workplaces providing digital connections that keep workers up to date at all times. According to Baker, these chatbots are time-saving and easy to interact with, as they use NLP, reduce error rates associated with humans and improve customer engagement. So what do they do and what are they being currently used for?

For Marcel Shaw, an IT Blogger and federal systems engineer with Ivanti, the role of chatbots is only really starting to evolve. In the future, he said, we will see chatbots evolve with AI technology. He even envisions a day when chatbots will be able to understand what we mean, not just what we say. He argues that with Internet of Things (IoT) and smart machines permeating the enterprise, IT service management (ITSM) admins are becoming increasingly challenged by the lack of resources available to handle the many requests that come in.

Technical support personnel are still involved with too many requests and incidents, handling them on a one-to-one basis. “This means that in the future, human intervention for any request or incident will not be sustainable. Therefore, we will see many organizations turn to chatbots with AI capabilities as a way to more efficiently handle front line IT support calls,” he said.   

When looking into how organizations are using chatbots we discovered seven common themes, all of them focused on enabling easier work processes.

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1. Assisting the Team

A recent white paper by KPMG addressed where and why to use chatbots in the digital workplace and where they can provide significant benefits, such as the conversational agent. 

The conversational agent is trained to observe and capture team interactions — and accumulate important institutional knowledge. As the bot learns more about the group’s patterns and activities, it becomes like a virtual team member, with a photographic memory for past discussions, action items, tasks and reminders. Conversational agents on platforms like Slack, known as “Slackbots,” are widely in use as office assistants to complete tasks, such as scheduling meetings, translating text and ordering lunch.

2. Streamlining Office Operations

A task-oriented conversational agent can enable self-service of administrative tasks, alleviating office tedium and making it faster and easier to complete basic work. A classic example is the IT help desk bot, which leads employees through common, multistep procedures such as password resets, without human intervention.

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3. Delivering Information

This type of conversational agent provides on-demand information and guidance on matters important to the team. The bot alleviates the pain of scaling response teams to address increased demand for company data. For example, a “financial reporting bot” can provide granular fiscal figures at month-close, reducing the demand on financial analysts to craft custom reports.

Learning Opportunities

4. Easy Collaboration

Keri Lindenmuth, marketing manager with the Kyle David Group, points out that it makes collaboration seamless, especially for a workforce that works remotely or is spread out over expansive floor space. Her company is using Zoho Cliq features, an app which allows employees to collaborate, communicate and ask each other questions even when they're on the go or at a client onsite.

Where these apps really stand out is in their ability to understand functions and commands. For example, a slash command could be built to pull up invoices, help desk tickets, or meeting invites. With the click of a few keys, employees can have all of the information they need at their fingertips. “No matter which chatbot or messaging app businesses decide to use, it is important that the app not become a distraction. Ground rules should be set immediately on what should and should not be discussed over the app. Expectations should be set by leadership. The app or chatbot should not be a place where memes are shared all day, but where employees can truly collaborate and communicate," she said.

5. Enables Easy Communication

Farhan Quasem, a digital learning project manager at Valamis, uses multiple chat apps to work with clients from around the world, but also to collaborate with colleagues. He said that chat apps provide a convenient means of communication, helping geographically spread out teammates coordinate decision-making and resolve issues in a shorter amount of time, which is vital to the success of virtual workplaces. It gives people easy access, just-in-time avenues to communicate in the workplace. Email is not instant communication.

6. Easy Messaging

Anurag Lal, president and CEO of Infinite Convergence, said that mobile messaging has both changed the way we communicate and transformed how enterprises engage with their customers or consumers, be it product interfaces or flows, brand promotions, notifications or alerts, customer service, or other business to consumer communications to a name a few.

However, massive adoption of consumer mobile messaging has found its way in the enterprise workplace or business-to-business communications. More than 70 percent of employees use consumer messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage, Android Messaging and telecom operator provided SMS services for business communication.

This means that most businesses do not have control over sensitive information sent through consumer messaging apps, making them vulnerable to privacy, data breach and compliance penalties (related to GDPR, FINRA, HIPAA and other global regulatory and audit requirements). This is further aggravated when organizations fail to own their digital workplace.

7. Content Delivery

Jeremy Williams, senior director of productivity and collaboration at customer experience agency Rightpoint, points out that digital workspaces are a balancing act of user-expectations of a simple, intuitive and powerful experience with the thoughtful delivery of content to make that experience truly personalized.

Bots can play a big part in the realm of content delivery. They offer a unique way to deliver content to users. A common initial use-case is identifying a known repository of high-usage and high-utility, such as call-center top-call-issues, frequently asked for content, common support organization challenges, to train a bot to handle these interactions. These are common targets of initial deployments because the content is already known and the user-need is validated. This serves to minimize risk and also introduce bots, if they're new to the organization. Once the simple use-case, or information way-finding, is proven, the expansion of where bots can add value begins to get more and more interesting.