CHATBOTS

CHATBOTS: the next frontier for HR software

14593777368_1edf8855e9_z

PHOTO CREDIT: brahim elmokaouim, FLICKR

You’ll be forgiven for thinking  Chatbots are new  technology, they’ve been around since the 1960’s in fact, but have been given a new lease of life with the recent developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The word itself gives some hints as to what it does. “Chat” implies a form of informal communication and “bot” indicates the presence of robotics. In reality they are small software applications that automate tasks on your behalf over the internet and interact with you in a human-like way. Many of these tasks tend to be basic, repetitive and gimmicky , however we are seeing the emergence of  sophisticated business chatbots that learn and adjust their behaviour and response.

The way you interact with these bots is casual and in natural language.

Most of the major tech houses like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple are actively developing these bots, and you’ve probably used some of them such as Siri (iPhone), or Cortana (Microsoft), Alexa (Amazon Echo) and a host of text based chatbots now found in tools like Skype and Slack. (On a side note let’s hope soon-to-be parents don’t start naming their babies with similar names – can you imagine the chaos in the home and future workplaces).

IMPACTS FOR HR TECHNOLOGY

The HR environment is a perfect breeding ground for chatbots. Many of the transactions and data requests performed by managers and employees are simple. A well-developed chatbot could remove the need to access the HR solution directly, replaced with a simple voice request or a text message or email to carry out the task on behalf of the employee. It could be quicker than logging into the ESS/MSS app and broaden the means of interacting with the HR system. Here are a few examples:

  • VOICE: “Hey Siri, what is my leave balance”
  • VOICE: “Hey Alexa, let my boss know I’m feeling unwell” 
  • VOICE: “Hey Bob, mail me a list of team members due to attend safety training”
  • TEXT: Send my Feb py advice
  • MAIL: Approve John’s training expenses for May

The above are examples of simple requests that would typically interrogate the HR system as if it were the real user. Things like security profiles and data access would be applied to the bot in the same fashion as the human user. In all likelihood these simple request would include logical follow-up questions based on the in-built artificial intelligence:

  • “You have 11.3 days of annual leave. You haven’t had any time off for 7 months, do you want to put in a request?”
  • “I’m sorry to hear you are not well…as it’s a Monday please ensure you obtain a doctors certificate”
  • “I’ve mailed you a list of team members attending safety training. Check in with Peter Smith, his record shows he doesn’t arrive 36% of the time”

RAMCO the Indian based Enterprise Software Vendor is providing their HR clients with e-mail communication to its HR system, citing speed as a primary motivator. They have a number of other tools in their other non-HR modules of similar ilk. Other vendors like ADP are building bots that automate HR tasks such as sending a job to a prospective hire and alerting employees to use up their annual leave.

The other likelihood is that Chatbots will be developed outside of the vendor products. There are a number of specialist platforms such as Kore who provide tools for bot self-development and others who provide existing libraries to commonly used systems.

Chatbots are unlikely to replace the need for slick end-user interfaces in the short term, but they are potential big cost savers from a vendor development perspective as well as for software licencing.

As chatbots become more proficient and operate like real assistants or concierge services, people will want to use them, creating a demand. Hopefully vendors and developers have their ears to the ground.