gears in motion
PHOTO: bert sz

We use technology to get our work done every day. But what about using technology to drive decisions about whether various initiatives are in line with our company’s digital policies? In other words, could we use digital tools to determine what should or shouldn't be done in a marketing campaign, or whether content created for a mobile application is in compliance with regulations, or whether a user-generated content campaign is a good idea?

It might seem counterintuitive to use technology to implement these policies, but why not? After all, technology helps us do things like make groceries appear on our doorstep within hours of placing an online order, see the face of a colleague halfway around the world, and even work from home when the plumber needs to arrive between 9 am and 3 pm. If it saves time and makes it easier for employees to abide by your digital policies, I think it’s a fantastic idea.

Yet for most people I know, a mention of using technology for digital governance leads to thoughts about content management system templates, workflows and multiple stages of approval before content goes live. And for good reason: The actual governance efforts inside of organizations — whether for digital channels or the content that flows through them — have not evolved much in 20 years. Maybe this is the perfect time to change that.

The Old Way of Getting Content Approved

I recently had an opportunity to observe a company that was spending too much time getting content approved and published. First, the marketing department had to complete its checks and balances, and then the legal and compliance teams took over with their own approval processes. The fact that this company is in a regulated industry was part of the problem, but the approval process was still unsustainable. It took the equivalent of five full-time employees an average of 21 days to get a piece of content approved. It was frustrating for employees and detrimental to the organization’s goals.

Related Article: Ask Digital Experts to Help Define Your Digital Policies

An Innovative Approach to a Long Approval Process

The organization came up with an ingenious solution. It decided to use a chatbot to streamline the content approval process. While chatbots have become ubiquitous in customer-facing applications, this was the first time I had seen a company use one for internal governance.

If you think about it, though, it makes perfect sense. Although the most talked-about benefits of chatbots revolve around customer service and sales, chatbots can also save time and money internally. They can reduce the number of customer service employees needed to handle inquiries, they can provide service around the clock, they can guide customers to better purchases (and even suggest additional items) and more. So executives at the company I observed correctly concluded that they could realize the same benefits internally by giving employees the tools to create content that complied with organizational digital policies on the front end, thereby reducing the time needed for the review-and-revision process on the back end.

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

A Chatbot for Digital Governance: The Process

Their key to success was following a methodical process when it came to teaching the chatbot what to do. Fortunately, this company was able to take some lessons from organizations that were already using chatbots for other purposes and modify them for digital governance. I see no reason why other organizations can’t do the same.

Here are steps you can take to successfully put chatbots to work internally.

  • Identify use cases: Begin by looking for areas where chatbots might be able to save time and effort. In the case of the company I observed, that involved identifying the types of content that had to go through the 21-day approval process.
  • Identify the tasks for each use case: The next step is to analyze the time-consuming process and figure out what types of tasks you need to automate. Depending on the organization, that could include everything from sourcing royalty-free images to translating content into multiple languages.
  • Identify each touchpoint where a digital policy needs to be followed: For some organizations, this would include branding details, like the use of the company logo. Highly regulated industries like pharmaceuticals and finance have long lists of laws and regulations to follow.
  • Think through how users would interact with a chatbot: It’s unlikely that every person will use the chatbot in the same way. In a customer-facing retail application, for example, the customer might ask questions like “What is your return policy?” or “How long do I have to return something I don’t like?” Similarly, with an internal system, one marketing employee might ask, “Can I use a form to collect personal data from EU customers?” while another might ask, “What do I need to know about collecting personal data from customers in the EU?” In each case, the chatbot would need to learn that both questions are asking for the same information.
  • Map out the perfect interaction: Imagine what would happen in a perfect scenario — one where the chatbot delivered the information the person needed on the first try.
  • Brainstorm what could go wrong: In what scenarios might a chatbot deliver the wrong information, and why might that happen? What should happen next?
  • Prototype and self-check: There’s no sense in building a house before you understand where the doors must go. Embracing that mindset, the company I observed used very simple tools (think Excel spreadsheets and SharePoint views) to lay out the logic and validate assumptions with end users. This was also a great data collection exercise, because it helped the organization understand extreme examples of the use cases it had identified. Armed with that information, it was able to determine what percentage of time an actual human would have to intervene because a chatbot simply wouldn’t be able to get the job done. Added bonus: The company documented the chatbot logic in a way that allowed the IT team to deploy the system in 10 days, since the back-and-forth on requirements and the “How should this work?” parts were resolved ahead of time.
  • Copy and paste galore: Finally, the company identified elements of the new chatbot system that it could apply in other use cases. No point creating something from scratch when you don’t have to!

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

Cutting Approval Time From 21 Days to Three

While I’ve made it sound simple, the company’s chatbot project was definitely an iterative process that started on SharePoint and underwent frequent tweaks, which the company also tracked. The final result was a chatbot that handles a workload equivalent to that of four full-time employees. The few remaining tasks that were beyond the chatbot’s capabilities can be handled by the equivalent of one full-time employee.

And that 21-day approval timeline? It’s now down to three days.

Just because you’re developing policies to govern your use of technology, don’t think you can’t use technology to implement those digital policies. Anything that makes it possible to get work done more quickly, more easily and at a lower cost while complying with digital policies is a win.