Why automation in the enterprise is all about the little things

by Mike Sharkey

Bots can save your business time and make your job easier. And they can deliver big benefits just by fixing the small problems. So when it comes to automation in your organisation – all you need is a little nudge.

Syd Lawrence, co-founder and CEO of The Bot Platform is warming to his theme.

"Everyone needs a little nudge now and then to get things done. Particularly the things they don't want to do. That applies to people's personal lives and it applies even more when they're at work."

People need a nudge. And bots are a powerful way to do it

What particularly interests him is just how good bots are at doing the nudging.

"We found bots to be a super powerful way to do it. First of all – we don't like humans nudging us. We don't like being told what to do. But when it's a machine – an automated system – we're much more likely to respond."

It's a view borne from experience. Syd has been working at the cutting edge of technology for over 14 years and together with his co-founder, he set up The Bot Platform five years ago.

They've been on a mission to help people solve problems using automated tools ever since, and now work with organisations such as the BBC, Water Aid and Samsung.

Bots solve the little things

Then there's the ongoing misconception about bots, says Syd. Confusion about what they are and what they can and can't do. And one of the problems is persistent mislabelling.

"People keep calling these things 'AI chatbots'. Now, there are two things wrong with that. These things are not artificial intelligence. We prefer to call them optimised human assisted intelligence, or 'OHAI'. And nobody wants to chat to a machine! You want to use a machine to access information or to complete tasks. To do something."

Bots fix simple processes. And that's their secret power

This mislabelling overstates the potential of bots and what they're particularly useful for in the workplace.

Bots simplify processes. Fixing the small problems is their secret power. They help to automate those annoying and repetitive tasks that drag workers down and cost people time.

So when it comes to the purpose of their bot, organisations need to spend time thinking about what those small tasks might be. "What does everyone spend five or 15 minutes doing every day? If your bot can reduce that time by a third, then you're saving a huge amount of combined effort."

Automation, LIBBY and the workplace integration

It's these types of time savings and productivity boosts that are the driving force behind one of The Bot Platform's recent products. Libby is an on-demand knowledge assistant which uses Workplace Chat to connect an organisation's knowledge base and the people who want to access it.

"Libby is a bot that makes your organisational information more accessible than ever before. A lot of knowledge repositories are out of date, static or really hard to use to find the right answer. People simply ask Libby a question via Workplace Chat and it sends the answer straight back."

If Libby doesn't know the answer to a question, it will ping the relevant person in your organisation to update the answer (and then write that back to the knowledge base). It will also ask for quick feedback on every answer that it does provide.

The bot gives two benefits. Quick answers for users. And the automation of a painful process

That's a double benefit for the organisations who are already using Libby. Enabling people to find quick answers so that they can get more done. And automating the painful process of curating and developing a useful knowledge repository.

Libby is currently available in beta. It's also going to be available in the Workplace integration directory soon.

The right way to build a bot: Start with the why

So how do businesses go about building a bot?

"When apps became popular, every business suddenly wanted one", says Syd. "They didn't know what they wanted it to do. They didn't know what the benefits would be to a user. They didn't know the 'why'."

Want to build a bot? Great! What do you want it to do?!

It's a similar story with bots. "Two years ago, Facebook shipped an API allowing bots on Messenger. And everyone wanted one. It took time for people to become savvy about what they're trying to achieve."

Now you can build bots in Workplace, there's been another rush of excitement as organisations try to find ways to use them at work. But when a company approaches Syd's team to talk bots, the response is always the same: "Great! But what do you want it to do?"

The stages of bot building

There's a difference between the bots people make for Workplace and those in Messenger. Workplace is a collaboration platform for business, so it makes sense that bot building focuses on process automation and employee engagement. And then you can focus on the 'why'.

There are four key questions in the planning stage:

  • Why are you building the bot?
  • What's the purpose?
  • What problem do you want it to fix?
  • How are you going to define the project as a success?

Challenge first

In the early days, bot builders would talk a lot about only a few types of bots. Mood bots or jargon bots, for example. So that's what people bought – even if they didn't really fix the challenge that the company needed to fix.

Focusing on the 'why' and not just what's on the menu

"We tell our customers to focus on identifying the problem. Focusing on the why and not just what's on the menu. That's something that might change and evolve as people's understanding of the possibilities grows."

If you're losing an hour a day because people can't find the answers to acronyms, then build a jargon bot. But if you're haemorrhaging time because your meetings are inefficient? Then you're going to need another solution.

The timesaver

Syd illustrates the point with another customer example. His team built a bot called Keith that saves the customer 12 minutes per employee every day. That bot automates 'stand-ups' – a popular way for agile project teams to get on the same page.

Not only is it a time saving, it's being driven by an automatic process

Keith sends everyone on the team a message at 09:00. It reminds team members what they said they were going to do yesterday. It asks what they achieved, what they plan to do today and what are the potential blockers to the workflow.

The bot automatically collates this in the main Workplace project group so everyone has visibility. Rather than everyone standing up for 15 minutes, it takes about 60 seconds to reply and a couple of minutes to catch up with everyone's responses.

It makes people accountable. It can drive good behaviours and values

Not only is it a time saving, it's being driven by an automatic process – which can be more effective in keeping teams focused, as well as keeping track of historical data.

"It makes people accountable. And it can be the main driver for good behaviours and values. It's what these bots are really good at. Bots that fix the little things. That save us time, boost productivity and stop us falling out with our colleagues."

"In the end, I think that's a little nudge we're all ready for."

Bots of love to Syd Lawrence, co-founder of The Bot Platform and Workplace partner.

Find out more about Workplace becoming a partner here. Or try Workplace Premium free for 90 days.

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