Bots. Yet another technology buzzword that seems to be on people’s lips in recent months. The volume is getting louder and louder. It’s tempting to ignore it, at least until the hype has passed and more sensible, grounded thinking starts to emerge. Think about Big Data – the hype around that was phenomenal and yet in reality it has still to make any difference to most businesses. However, with bots and in particular, intranet bots, I can think of three big reasons why intranet managers should sit up and pay attention now:
1) Intranet bots make work life easier and more productive
The first reason is the productivity gains offered by bots. At work we all waste time on tiresome tasks which have nothing to do with our reasons for being there. Booking meetings, travel, booking holiday, submitting expenses, etc. are things that can be fairly easily automated for bots to carry out. APIs and connectors to HR systems like Workday will make the job even easier and will offer a rich array of tasks to automate. If you want to see a list of ideas of of how bots can save time and money in the workplace I recommend Intranetizen’s post on 8 intranet bots that should exist. Also check out James Robertson’s recent post containing crowdsourced ideas when he asked an audience the blue-sky question, imagine you can only talk to your digital workplace, what would you want to ask it?
2) Intranet bots will deliver a better user experience
Intranet managers understand that if you want to change habits and drive adoption of your intranet, you need to make life easier for employees. But as we all know building bulletproof user interfaces is difficult because users are an unpredictable bunch. They tend not to think in the same ordered way as intranet managers. I’ve sat in intranet usability workshops and seen users demonstrate thought patterns that are really quite random if not totally chaotic, reducing the finest information architecture to an alien language. Bots give us a great opportunity to simplify interface design because they typically use just a straightforward chat interface. Most people are familiar with Facebook messenger, Skype or Whatsapp. The trick in good bot design will be anticipating the right terms and vocabularies that users will no doubt throw at the poor bot. Get me that deck I sent to Bill the other day.
3) Bot technology is accessible and cheap
The third reason why I believe intranet bots are likely to make a big and fairly quick impact in the digital workplace is because bot technology is not that complex to use and is really quite accessible. You can build your own bot in minutes by playing with some of the frameworks developed by the big software vendors. What’s more, some of these are free. If you have just half a head for code try using the Microsoft Bot Framework. If coding is not your thing then you can still play around at building a virtual agent using IBM’s Watson Bluemix demo. With many intranet technologies companies typically have to dig deep into their pockets not only to buy expensive software and hardware but also to fund big implementation projects. New technology projects are intimidating because they can feel rather like a big bang. The great thing about bots is that they lend themselves to be built in an iterative way. You don’t have to boil the ocean. Once you have a bot framework set up you can start ‘bot-ifying’ individual processes and tasks in the workplace one-by-one. This iterative approach feels inherently less risky to intranet managers and produces lots of quick wins to spur them on.
So what’s the next step to accelerate your journey into bots? Based on my last paragraph it makes sense to just dip your toe in the water. Start with one of your organisation’s simpler processes or common tasks and try to bot-ify it. Don’t get too bogged down in technology choice at this stage. Think of it more as a proof of concept. We’re itching to work on a proper bot project so you could give us a call too 😉