Juhana Huotarinen is a lead consultant of software development at Gofore. Juhana’s background is in software engineering and lately, he has taken part in some of the biggest digitalisation endeavours in Finland. His blogs focus on current topics, involving agile transformation, software megatrends, and work culture. Juhana follows the ‘every business is a software business’ motto.
I wrote a blog post last year about how bots are used to automate routine work in our company (Gofore). The same topic is even more relevant today when we are stepping into an era of AI. Let’s see what has happened to our bots since my last blog.
30 little bots
Today we have around 30 active bots that integrate to Slack. Almost half of these slackbots are focused on utilisation and billing functions. Reliable utilisation and billing are a consulting company’s engine oil that enables all other activities. These bots control peoples’ marking hours, calibrate utilisation capacities, remind to bill customers and recognise human errors. Utilisation and billing were also the first automated functions.
The other significant group is reporting slackbots. All companies have a lot of business-critical information that needs to be made visible to employees. Slackbots list, for example, customer statistics, site-based information and the most impacted blog and social media posts. These slackbots also can be used on-demand.
The third group of slackbots is everything else. We have an overtime bot, SLA-observer bot and bots for the sales team. One slackbot updates users’ vacation statuses and the other connects people for a beer.
In God we trust, others bring bots
Basically, a bot is a piece of software that performs automated tasks. Despite this, bots have advantages that many other applications are missing. I have listed the three most important ones.
A Slackbots’ best asset is simplicity because a bots’ user interface is mostly text and icons. In the same way, interaction with them is based on text and not graphical forms or other UI elements. Some bots are totally invisible for users and just run in the background.
The second advantage is a bots’ overall popularity. Many users have used bots previously, hence a bot’s behaviour is well-known. For this reason, intensive training and user guides can be avoided. Bots’ messages are displayed in different slack channels continuously, so promotion also happens naturally.
The third advantage is the Slack platform. Slack provides a smooth user experience, out-of-the-box services (security, authentication, performance, data storage etc.), wide device support and excellent integration options. Although all our bots are handmade, Slack has speeded up our development enormously.
Value for life
The value proposition is the reason that the product exists; this can be summarised in three points in our case. Better job satisfaction means bots take care of boring and repetitive tasks and let people work on meaningful and interesting duties. The cost saving aspect focuses on time-saving and error sensitive functions. Practically, our bots have replaced a big part of middle management tasks already. Improved decision-making means that business-critical data is visible for everybody 24/7. Every new bot idea is validated and prioritised against these three factors.
Some months ago, our bot team created an internal survey regarding how people feel about our slackbots. The results were very promising – 95% of people think that the bots are useful and 30% of people think that the bots are vital to the company. This feedback gave an extra boost and motivation to the whole team to continue development work.
Work in progress
My estimate is that our company still have around 20-30 manual processes that can be easily automated by bots. Parts of the recruiting process, subcontractor management, credit card administration and device handling, just to name a few. After this low hanging fruit has been picked, it’s time to add more AI to bots.
The outcome of many internal projects is mediocre. In contrast, bots bring value to our company every single day. When it has been said more than once that these bots are actually part of our company’s competitive advantages, you know that product development has reached a goal.
Juhana Huotarinen – the proud Product Owner of the Gofore Bot Team