Earlier this month, the Stamford, Conn.-based research organization ISG published its 2019 ISG Provider Lens Social Business Collaboration (subscription required) report. Like all such reports, it makes for interesting reading and focuses on the vendors that are developing quickly in this space.

Social Business Collaboration

It showed that Workplace by Facebook, for example, has gained significant traction since its initial launch almost three years ago with the familiarity and popularity of the Facebook user interface making Workplace deployments faster, as employees require little or no training.

Igloo Software was also named a leader for its "modern outlook toward the traditional intranet," the report noted. Other leaders in ISG's Enterprise Social Collaboration Solutions quadrant included Microsoft and Slack.

However, there was also a note tucked into the report that says more about the state of the industry than the research in the report itself. According to ISG, this year’s study will be the last standalone report in this space to be published by ISG.  Instead, the firm announced it will be covering Enterprise Social Collaboration services as part of a wider Digital Workplace of the Future Report, beginning in 2020. "Enterprise social collaboration increasingly is being seen as an integral part of digital workplace strategy, which includes solutions used for content-centric and team-centric collaboration," said Mrinal Rai, principle analyst at ISG and the author of the report.

It found that enterprises worldwide are embracing social business collaboration technologies and tools to improve the digital dexterity of employees and customers. Enterprises are looking for social collaboration vendors, the report reads, to modernize their intranets, and to provide artificial intelligence-powered instant messaging and chat services, to enable better collaboration on file and content systems and to offer modern virtual meeting capabilities, the report said. So what exactly can AI bring to intranets?

Related Article: 7 Free Enterprise Intranet Solutions (That Aren't Really Free)

Intranet Needs

Tom Taulli is the author of "Artificial Intelligence Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction." He pointed out that at the heart of AI is data, which is the fuel for learning. Generally, the more data, the better. Of course, it is important that the data be high-quality and not biased. So with an intranet, there really needs to be a large number of users for the system to be effective (which allows for the data).

How will all this work for an intranet? “Well, let’s face it, employees have lots of questions that can take much time from HR to answer. But a chatbot can cut down on this,” he said. “And yes, there could be other benefits, such as sentiment analysis. Based on the tone of the chat, are employees happy? Are there problems brewing?”

Finally, when it comes to intranets, adoption can be tough. There needs to be a concerted effort for evangelizing this in the organization. Although, by noting that the system has AI features that can better answer questions, this may be the catalyst to get employees interested in it.

Introducing AI Into Intranets

Introducing AI components to the intranet environment will come in several stages. Initially, the main benefit has been to reduce or eliminate the rote administrative tasks that keep the employee from more productive tasks, including team collaboration on discussions and idea exchanges. AI-powered chatbots, deployed on an intranet platform, serve as virtual assistants effectively automating and completing perfunctory and mundane business tasks, Yingwu Gao, VP of product engineering and AI at Redmond, Wash.-based PacteraEDGE, said.

Being able to anticipate and prioritize the content coming through in myriad communication channels is another area where AI is enhancing the corporate collaboration function, she said. Scanning messaging threads, regardless of originating platform, AI can take notes, sort, extract, and summarize important, time-sensitive communiques while weeding out spam, lower priority information and the endless barrage of nonsense user-notifications. “AI, however, shows its greatest potential to the collaboration process with its data intelligence capabilities,” she said. “Once a program is trained as to the data points a business regularly needs to access, interpret, and use, it becomes a quick and efficient tool to getting a team accurate answers and necessary knowledge from large pools that used to stagnate in system-wide departmental silos.”

With AI and machine learning, the task of accumulating and making sense of all the data will be done offline by machine, quickly giving the team an actionable insight that will help them move their project forward.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: What Employees Always Want From Their Intranet

AI and Social Network Behaviors

David Lee, VP of platform products at Belmont, Calif.-based RingCentral told us that business collaboration tools proliferate because modern knowledge workers bring their consumer social network behavior to the workplace. AI's role is in some ways similar to and at the same time very different from its role on the consumer side:

1. What’s Similar?

With proliferation comes data overload, so AI's primary role in a business intranet is to help knowledge workers sort through the chaos of workplace comms, i.e.: What is important to me? What should I pay attention to? Examples include:

  • Prioritizing messages based on a user's social graph, reporting structure, project orientation.
  • Providing global teams with the tools to understand each other easily: real-time captioning in audio and video; language translation (caption or via text-to-speech); automatic or semi-automatic note taking and task management.
  • Focusing real-time conversations and meetings on what matters: AI-based cross-talk reduction, blur backgrounds or whiteboard augmentation.

2. What’s Different?

AI plays a role in ensuring the more informal style of communication commonly found in social collaboration does not result in risks for the enterprise. Examples include:

  • Monitoring and alerting users and admins about sensitive information being exchanged in team messages, especially those that align with the business's specific compliance needs.
  • Real-time monitoring of audio and video communication streams to detect, alert and redact information when necessary (things said, presentations shared, writings on a whiteboard in the background)

In the past 18 months there has been a noticeable acceleration in the adoption of AI. However, it is very much still in its early years. Previously, AI-based initiatives were heavy duty, services-led projects. Now we’re seeing AI get productized in form of software like chatbots, Google’s G Suite — which now has preloaded replies for you in Gmail — intranets and other enterprise platforms.

One thing that has to be kept in mind is that the usage of AI is still limited and only appropriate where the code can be provided with an adequate amount of context and data. Humans have a leg up in this regard and can make important decisions in fractions of a second because we have intuition, which is really a very fast way to review and weigh a complex number of variables.

For AI-based code to factor in all of the different variables a human would consider, contextually, it significantly complicates even the simplest tasks. The intranet is the single enterprise, place par excellence to offer this kind of context.

The use of AI in an intranet allows the entire platform to become more data-driven. Instead of waiting for users making decisions and contacts based on a limited view of the enterprise through the intranet, AI allows businesses to preemptively intranet contacts. The real power AI in the intranet is using organizational data and contact with AI pulling everything together.