People are saying 2019 will be the year bots go mainstream in the workplace. We can read signs of this prediction coming true in the growing number of companies offering plug-and-play bot services and chatbots for intranets. These bots integrate with your back-end systems and talk to a variety of your line of business systems to help users access information. People can interact with these chatbots using natural language via a search-style chat interface. 

It’s becoming easier and easier these days to ask a chatbot about time off or simple deskside support questions — but many employees resist. What happened to the help desk on every row or on every floor? What happened to the super accessible support person who was at your beck and call? 

Times have changed. First help desk was outsourced overseas and now the best we can ask for is a robot? How can that be? 

Related Article: Chatbots or Chatbaby? Why Chat Technology Needs Time to Mature

Chatbots: Improving Search, Untapping Hidden Knowledge

I recently attended an HR designed course designed to help new managers understand the resources available to them in their intranets. As I sat there listening to the Q&A drag on for over an hour it struck me that the responses, which were essentially links to various tools and resources, would likely be better serviced a chatbot. Why would HR and e-learning go through the trouble of holding this kind of training when they could put the effort into training a chatbot, one to address users asking these same questions over and over … come to think of it, isn’t this what we call FAQs? Shouldn't the first clear use for a bot be to address FAQs? The answer is an emphatic yes. 

Bots are truly the next evolution of interfaces. We want quick answers and chatbots can enhance how we search. Their simple question and response with cards make interacting with them preferable over interacting with text to speech on calls or even in our interface with Alexa and Cortana. 

Bot frameworks can also make it easy to use natural language expression to quickly access APIs with simple questions. Ongoing enhancements to AI are making it easier and easier to interface with otherwise difficult to use APIs. There’s no need to have dozens of bots when a framework can make a variety of APIs accessible through a single chat interface that has been trained with accessible knowledge. A variety of skills make it possible to interact with rich line of business systems. As an example, a request to determine how much vacation one has left can quickly morph into a request for time off and a workflow generated to request time approval from the manager. Business processes can now begin through a quick interaction with the bot.

Learning Opportunities

Every enterprise chat app appears to not only not only include its own bot interface, but also most enterprise solutions are shipping with easily accessible APIs or REST endpoints, making it straightforward to interact. Services companies are partnering up with a variety of different vendors to support the bot vision of a little box that can unlock the secrets of your intranet with a simple question and response interaction.

Related Article: Want to Use Chatbots and Smart Speakers in Your Workplace? Think Big

The Return of Clippy

Bots are eerily a lot like adding Clippy to your website. Will your users be freaked out by the little chat window prompting them to use it? Will they adopt a new improved search experience that prompts users to interact? 

Microsoft Word now has a new big microphone button in the ribbon, prompting users to step away from their keyboards and dictate to their hearts desire. It seems Microsoft and the technical community is ready to provide new interfaces and interactions for users, but will it be too much — will users resist? Of course. Don’t be surprised if your users don’t want to embrace the new ways to interact with their newly chatty intranet. 

The best way to counter resistance is to help your users understand how friendly (and useful) your new intranet personality can be. Add an Easter egg, add some personality and flair. Your intranet just got a little more human than it ever was before. Clippy is making a comeback in the form of your new intranet chatbot. Have some fun with this new opportunity to add some personality to your intranet and skills. Good luck!

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