Raise your hand if preparing travel invoices is the highlight of your day. Or if you enjoy recording working hours and reserving tickets for a business trip. These mundane tasks can become a pleasant and even attractive experience – you only need an open mind and a splash of new technology. Gofore’s ”bot addict” Aapo Tanskanen tells us how artificially intelligent bots have made everyday work more pleasant and fun.
Artificial intelligence helps Netflix recommend programmes we may like and Facebook tag friends in photos. Even a robot car could not drive by itself without machine learning. But can artificial intelligence also help ordinary office workers? Yes, it can. We have developed three intelligent chatbots that help people perform many essential every day tasks effortlessly.
Seppo, Granny and Gene are text-based conversational chatbots that operate in the Slack instant message environment frequently used by Gofore employees. Seppo chatbot is the veteran of the bunch and was developed in 2016. Like many other successful projects, it grew out of a real need. We do not have an actual middle management. This does not, however, eliminate many of the tasks that are performed at this level in more traditional organisations.
Seppo, for example, helps to manage working hours. It notifies you if an employee has worked too many hours, or if entries need to be fixed. Based on the good experiences with Seppo, we started to develop new chatbots to help with everyday routine tasks. Gene, for example, takes care of booking train tickets, which greatly helps employees who work in various locations. Granny, for her part, is a laid-back generalist, who can be consulted on general matters regarding the company.
”Bots have really changed every day work here,” says data analyst Aapo Tanskanen, who confesses to being a bot addict, and who has been closely involved in the development of Gene. ”Their use, for example, in entering hours worked, is considerably easier and more pleasant than clicking menus in a traditional interface.”
The short history of improvements in working life
Our bots are a great example of how the quality of working life can be improved with technology. Work hour entries, ticket reservations and travel invoices are an obligatory part of our work, but liked by few – especially when they steal a disproportionate amount of time from the work itself.
When routine tasks become smooth and pleasant, job satisfaction also increases. “Since our communications are based strongly on Slack anyway, the threshold to making daily obligatory routine entries is very low. You don’t have to open separate applications, instead you can take care of things quickly right away. In addition to making life easier, bots make routine activities more efficient and even more fun.”
Indeed, bots have become very popular with Gofore employees. For example, more than 200 train tickets have already been booked with Gene, even though it was rolled out only a few months ago right before the holiday period. People are not, however, forced to interact with bots, and old methods are used alongside the new ones.
”Our bots are made to be approachable, and the threshold for using them is very low. They already understand natural language really well and continue to develop through use. Using natural language makes interaction with bots somehow more human,” says Aapo.
Bots are not faceless workhorses, but instead they all have their own personalities. Especially the newest family member Granny’s personality is the most developed. As her name suggests, Granny’s nature is gentle and uncomplicated, and she knows how to tell jokes. Seppo, on the other hand, is more of a managerial type, and Gene is a snappy assistant, who manages designated tasks efficiently.
”Bot’s personality traits may lower the threshold to use them again. The user experience plays a large part in determining whether people start using the bots. Therefore, their good design is key.”
Bots help people develop at work
Fortunately, sometimes one good thing leads to another. Bots have also been found to be good for onboarding new employees. It is easy to ask them basic things about the company and its practices without having to bother a colleague every time.
”Of course a bot does not replace personal onboarding, but it does offer excellent support and enables people to review things at a convenient time for them,” Aapo says.
Long-time employees have also been provided with new opportunities to develop themselves. “Our bots know, for example, to recommend what skills an employee should develop. Behind this are skills profiles collected from the staff, with which the algorithm knows how to make recommendations based on the said users’ profile.”
The breakthrough of artificial intelligence in the office is near
Many skills are needed to build a functional conversational bot. In addition to service design and UX development, essential knowledge includes cloud utilisation and understanding API interfaces. Natural language processing (NLP) and chatbot technology know-how is also necessary for developing the bot itself.
According to Aapo, many customers have been extremely interested when they have seen Gofore’s bots in action. “I have not run into bots such as Seppo, Gene and Granny that are internally used by a company and improve the employee experience elsewhere. In this respect, they are so far, quite unique.”
”There has been a lot of hype in the field, but now we have clearly arrived at a situation in which the benefits gained from them are obvious. I strongly bet on autumn 2019 being a real bot autumn.”
Watch the video and see how Gene books a train seat. If you want to hear more about bots, please contact Aapo via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via LinkedIn.