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At Content Formula we strive to work with cutting-edge intranet and digital workplace technology, working in partnership with our clients to implement new solutions. One project we’re very excited about is the introduction of a chatbot at accountancy firm Haines Watts.
Chatbots and artificial intelligence are currently receiving a lot of attention and hype. A chatbot allows users to have a conversation in natural language with an automated “bot”. This can help employees to find information they need and complete simple tasks. The bot also uses artificial intelligence to develop a greater understanding of the phrases and language used and can therefore “learn” how to communicate better.
About Haines Watts
We’ve been working with Haines Watts since 2016. Haines Watts is a top 15 UK accountancy firm with over 1,000 employees located at 80 offices through the UK with a range of services across different sectors. As the firm has expanded rapidly, we’ve worked closely with the digital team to implement a new custom-built Office 365-based intranet called Connect which has successfully driven communication, collaboration and knowledge-sharing across the firm.
With innovative features such as a powerful forum to ask and answer questions and a centre which helps streamline tasks for new joiners, the new chatbot is the latest new intranet feature to improve efficiency.
The new chatbot is called Cyril, named after the company’s founder, Cyril Haines Watts. Employees can ask Cyril questions in two places – either via Skype for Business or via the intranet - where there is a chat window in the bottom right hand corner of every page.
Currently Cyril is mainly focused on helping users locate content on the intranet. They can ask questions such as “Where can I find information on annual leave?” or “Find me all the people called David in the company.” Users can also type shorter sentences like “Find annual leave”.
On being questioned Cyril will return suitable answers or items, sometimes inviting the user to click through to the item they need. Because the bot consumes every single piece of information on the intranet it means many different types of content including news, questions and answers, job vacancies, documents, and expert profiles can be returned.
The bot can also answer several other questions or respond to different commands. For example, if you ask Cyril to “Show me a fact” it will display a small nugget of knowledge about Haines Watts’ history.
How Cyril works
Cyril works by interpreting the natural language phrases entered by employees, trying to match the words to what in chatbot design is called an “intent”. Cyril is basically asking itself ‘what is the user asking me to do?’.
The Microsoft framework we use which turns natural language into an intent is called LUIS (Language Understanding Intelligence Service). LUIS helps translate a phrase into a list of intents we’ve already programmed into Cyril. These intents include ‘find an expert’, ‘find a vacancy’, ‘find office details’, or ‘search everything on the intranet’.
For example, if somebody enters the phrase “Find me a job” LUIS will match that to the “Find a vacancy” intent and then Cyril will go and perform a search query as requested. LUIS also identifies the variable (or “entity” in the phrase) which is any specific criteria or information users are looking for. For example, the phrase “Get me details on the London office” will identify London as the entity and then Cyril can go and return the right content
What’s particularly clever is as more users use different terminology., the bot starts to be able to learn additional phrases and better translate language into intents. Cyril understands more as more people talk to him, his vocabulary continuing to grow and grow intelligently.
Setting up Cyril
Because chatbots can learn language it’s important to train a bot so it can be more effective. We’ve worked closely with the team at Haines Watts to test, train and improve Cyril and, so far, the feedback has been very positive. Now that the bot has been launched to almost all employees it will be fascinating to see how the use of the chatbot develops over the coming months.
One of the factors that has made Cyril more effective is that all content within the intranet is tagged with controlled terms, so findability on the intranet is already strong. Cyril therefore starts with a strong foundation to successfully find the things that employees are asking for.
The future beckons
At the moment Cyril’s main function is to help with intranet search, but Haines Watts has big plans to integrate Cyril with other systems. There is great potential to not only automate various tasks and processes to drive efficiency, but also to start to get value from the vast amount of business data and intelligence Haines Watts holds on its systems.
For example, the firm is considering how Cyril could interrogate data from its CRM system and external company information to produce business intelligence reports. Cyril might even be able to automatically suggest and arrange business development calls with key contacts and even put reminders into an individual’s Outlook calendar.
Let’s chat about chatbots
While it’s early days for digital workplace chatbots, we can already see the potential for this new technology. If you’d like to have a preliminary conversation about chatbots and how they might be able to work for your intranet and organisation, then get in touch. And yes, you’ll be talking to a real person from Content Formula, not a bot!