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What to Do About the Chatbot Invasion at Work

Feature Article | February 13, 2017 by Susan Galer

Spurred by the rise of chatbots in consumer apps, companies are giving voice (literally) to virtual assistants in the workplace. Gartner research predicts that by 2020, we’ll conduct 30 percent of our web browsing sessions without a screen.

While these analysts envision the impact on consumers as they drive, cook or exercise, this newest generation of voice-first applications promises even more for employees in the workplace.

Technology that speeds up daily tasks with simple voice commands will have a tremendous effect. Placing an order for supplies? In seconds, the chatbot automatically finds the best supplier with approved products in your budget that can be delivered in your shipping timeframes. Going on vacation? At your spoken word, the chatbot automatically calculates your vacation balance, looks for calendar conflicts, and proposes alternative options. Every department can benefit from this kind of instant data to action insights — finance, logistics, human resources, project management, travel and expense to name a few.

Going on vacation? A chatbot can automatically calculate your vacation balance and look for calendar conflicts

This kind of process acceleration transforms how companies get closer to customers, while giving workers more time for innovation so they can create even more valuable products and services. Consider internet cafes that fill seats with streamlined ease using chatbots as digital concierges. I watched a demo of the HanaHaus chatbot during my video interview at SAP TechEd Las Vegas with Karsten Schmidt of Innovation Center Silicon Valley.

As I listened to Schmidt describe how customers, developers and others are interacting with HanaHaus 24/7 using chat bots to reserve space more efficiently, I was struck by how much this innovation redefines community. The chat bots communicate in natural, everyday language, making interactions a breeze. Both café and community workspace, HanaHaus epitomizes what’s possible when workspaces themselves foster a vibrant culture of innovation.

Schmidt told me that SAP recently won a hackathon competition for a prototype procurement chatbot for buyers. The contest was sponsored by a global manufacturer intent on transforming procurement for its worldwide vendors. “Instead of time-consuming clicks to tediously navigate different parts of the system, people use simple commands to quickly place an order. The chatbot instantly analyzes relevant data behind the scenes, streamlining the whole process,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt added that SAP is in the planning stages of a services platform where developers can build conversational capabilities into enterprise applications that touch processes company-wide. Already multiple teams across SAP are partnering to infuse conversational capabilities into applications that power important business processes. These include the Kore Bot for SAP Hybris Cloud for Customer, and the SAP SuccessFactors Slack bot. Many of these chatbots connect directly to SAP systems through the SAP HANA Cloud Platform.

Chatbots aren’t totally new, but greater context along with the ability to respond to human and machine input are among the important distinctions in this next wave of applications. The first stages of digital business were limited to doing old things on new platforms. This next wave involves doing entirely new things anywhere at all. Just like people, the ability of chatbots to make meaningful connections with the right sources company-wide, is what makes for success. We may not understand the full impact of machine learning on every industry, but we can be sure it’s going to be massive.

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Top image via Shutterstock

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