Article by: Mark Flexman, DXC Fruition Practice Lead, DXC Technology
For those working in enterprise businesses, it can sometimes feel like the digital revolution never happened. From requesting holiday to solving a pesky IT problem, the main channels of communication are invariably phone, e-mail, or even an in-person meeting. This does not contrast well with the modern lifestyles we lead, from hiring a cab in two taps, to making serious banking decisions with our smartphones – the ‘Uber effect’ has changed the way services are delivered. Businesses are offering these services to customers, which begs the question as to why employees aren’t given the same level of delivery internally.
Alexa and Google Home are just the beginning
The growth of smart speakers and personal assistants such as Alexa and Google Home shows a clear appetite for technology driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI) – people are happy to use a machine to ask for information and manage tasks and there’s no reason why this same technology can’t be as useful in the office as it is at home. Business leaders believe AI is going to be fundamental in the future, with 72% terming it a ‘business advantage’ and by 2018, 45% of the fastest-growing companies in the world are due to ’employ’ more smart machines and virtual assistants than people, underscoring that the business opportunity is huge.
The initial use of AI-based assistants at work might not be through voice-based technology, as some people may be reticent to speak out loud and it could be disruptive to the work environment to have five ‘Alexas’ talking at once. However, intelligent text-based services – or ‘chatbots’ – are already taking off, providing the autonomy to employees to solve their own problems, rather than having to rely on other people or departments. This includes handling HR enquiries such as holiday requests or an IT issue like reporting a broken printer. This helps to take the pressure off service desks and other departments whilst ensuring that employees have access to services 24/7.
Working with cloud-based service management
Chatbots of this kind are typically integrated into existing cloud-based service management applications. Service management tools create common processes to evaluate, process and track demands, based on structured workflow approaches. IT departments have led the way in developing this technology, through automated service management, which might provide things like the ability to order a new piece of equipment in a self-service portal or log a support request and get notifications about its progress. However, other departments are now starting to catch up in the automation of internal service provision as the same principles apply, whether it’s the responsibility of HR, facilities, marketing, or finance. The introduction of AI adds further friendliness and takes even more pressure away from service delivery staff, empowering employees to help themselves. Three key examples of this are as follows:
User-enabled IT support
When it comes to employee frustrations, IT problems frequently top the list. Many find when they have a problem it can take a long time for it to be resolved. In recent years, many organisations have made some headway by using IT service management (ITSM) platforms to deliver a better service to employees. But even then, in most cases these rely on ‘to and fro’ conversations or require an engineer to be sent to fix the problem. Even if it is easier to have these conversations, it still doesn’t negate the need for them.
Today, AI can accelerate the entire process further, to the point where in some cases, no interaction with a human is required at all. Rather than relying on engineers, AI chatbots can assess what the problem is by asking questions and then offer solutions that can be carried out by the employee – which could be as simple as pointing them to a self-help resource or knowledge-base article with the answer in.
An AI chatbot in this instance empowers users to resolve the problem themselves – which can be much faster than having to work through the IT department. Where issues persist or are more complicated, the AI chatbot can escalate the issue to the IT team to send out an engineer. AI chatbots have a further major advantage over traditional IT support – they are available 24/7, meaning help is on hand even outside traditional office hours. Moreover, IT is not the only areas of the business where AI chatbots can help.
Modernising human resources
Modern businesses are frequently global and diverse, meaning employees are scattered all over the world. Being spread across different regions does introduce challenges in achieving a holistic HR approach – due to differing policies, processes, regulations and systems. No two companies are alike, thus employees have many questions and HR staff have a lot of their time tied up in answering them. This challenge can be exacerbated when an organisation has offices around the globe which frequently use different policies in each region. The complexity grows when you add in questions about holidays, grievances and pension plans – among many other topics – from potentially thousands of employees.
In the past, any enquiry had to be dealt with by a human, taking up valuable time for both the employee asking the question and the person trying to respond. Even the simple act of finding out how many days holiday someone has left can result in multiple emails sent across an organisation. AI chatbots can now take a lot of the pressure away from HR departments by answering questions about policies, or even telling employees how many days holiday they have left and helping to book it. This process is much faster than a human dealing with each request, meaning HR teams can focus on important issues such as recruitment, updating policies and employee training.
In some ways, the facilities department are doing their job best when no one knows they are there, but the truth is that most employees will run into problems at some point or another. When we think about how facilities services could be delivered more effectively with the help of AI, our thoughts might drift to autonomous robots that can turn up and carry out maintenance by themselves.
Though we might still be a few years from that reality, AI chatbots can already help to organise repairs – whether it’s getting maintenance teams to come and fix an AC system or replace a lightbulb. In addition, they can also help employees to request new IT or other equipment such as POS terminals, as required and help to get these items approved with minimal email traffic. In addition, AI systems create a lot of data which can then be analysed to spot trends – for instance recognising when downtime occurs and amending maintenance schedules to minimise these occurrences.
The first and key benefit that most businesses will be interested in are the potential financial savings made possible through AI chatbots. Streamlined processes can save vast amounts of time, for both those accessing and those delivering internal services.
So clearly these benefits can’t be ignored, but they aren’t the only reasons businesses should be improving internal services. The fact is that doing so will increase the usage of available resources and increase employee satisfaction, boosting productivity even further in the long term.