It’s not been long since we started hearing about chatbots. A part of the artificial intelligence (AI) brigade, chatbots, true to their names, can chat with people at a personal level. Depending on the intelligence required for such conversations, the technology uses simple software or software enhanced using machine learning and cognitive computing methodologies. Experimenting with chatbots has seen a bigger push after the success of messaging applications such as WeChat, WhatsApp and FB Messenger. People prefer chatting and talking over interactions through social networks.

Chatbots are not far from being an integral part of our daily lives. From reminders on breakfast menu planning to booking tickets for travel, chatbots and their advanced cousin, speechbots, are about to overhaul the personal service scenario in a big way.

Bots in the Workplace

Among the various situations that can be automated using chatbots, organizational processes seem to be the more common. We have heard of Siri, the personal digital assistant from Apple, but such robotic assistants also seem to be increasingly appearing within organizational setups. Predictive and repetitive processes are most suited for bot automation, allowing resources to be moved to more creative and high-value work. Bots also brings down operational costs, specifically those associated with maintaining a particular service.

Industries employing more than normal levels of staff numbers have already started replacing predictable and resource-heavy tasks with simple or more advanced bots, depending on the type of intelligence required to handle such tasks.

Bots as Employees

Bots can replace human employees wherever the need for such resources exceeds normal limits. Seasonal employment by giant retailers is an example. They can also be used to replace resources that handle clerical and administrative tasks that are unavoidable.

Let us go through some examples:

HR Processes

– How do bots help with routine HR work?

There are many predictable HR processes that can be automated. One example is leave applications processing. Often leave is applied for through an internal HRMS system. Reason for the application is filled in using an online form, which is then directed at the recommender /manager. The approval or rejection status is later shared with the employee via mail. A challenge with this practice is the need for the employee to log into a portal, click on the leave application tab, fill out the form, and send it across to their reporting manager. The entire process of application and approval takes a day or so for completion and closure.

Bots for Leave Process Handling

One great advantage of using bots is that they work round the clock, 24/7, 365 days. They can also speak with you in almost the same way a human would, in a prescribed scenario.

Taking leave process handling, the scenario would unfold like this – An employee who is unable to attend work for some reason will open the HR app and initiate a chat with the HR bot, citing that they are unwell, travelling or held up due to a personal reason. The bot will empathize as would a human, and check back with the employee if it should apply for leave, to which the employee would reply in the affirmative. The bot would then proceed to create a leave request for the employee, to be approved by the manager. The entire process is therefore simpler than before. The same bot can also multi-task. For example, it can arrange a meeting of the employee with their manager in case the need arises. Since the interaction with the bot is simple conversation and typing using smartphones (something that they are comfortable with), staff members will use the system without hesitation.

Bots for Training Resources

Bots can also be used for more sophisticated purposes such as taking new employees through office rules and practices. It can replace HR team in situations such as communicating organization information to employees. The experience could be made a more personal using a name to the bot and a human-like screen persona.

HR bots can also give advice based on the destination an employee would be travelling to for official reasons. They can suggest places for staying and interact with the travel department for bookings with hotels and airlines.

A primary challenge in making use of bots for any purpose, including HR, will be making sure that the bots understand correctly what is being communicated to them. Cognitive and machine learning technologies can help overcome most of such instances. Another challenge is that of security, which needs to be present since data is transmitted through such services.

In short, any task that needs analysis and reasoning, and backed by sufficient data can be interfaced with users using speech bots or message bots. Chatbots are the future for many ordinary and time-consuming tasks that will be handled by robots, freeing employees the world over to handle creative tasks that add value.