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Chad Oda is the Head of Consulting at Chat Mode.
Chat Mode is on a mission to help businesses change the way they access information in the workplace with AI-powered chatbots in Microsoft Teams.
Enhancing employee experience
Bots were introduced primarily to improve customer experience, making it easier for them to access information on the fly. Recently, organizations have realized that the same bots can provide immense value inside the workplace to engage with the workforce and enhance the employee experience.
Chad says, accessing anything from knowledge management, automating reports, and interacting with ERP and CRM systems is accelerated through the help of bots.
A three or more step action to generate a sales report is now made a whole lot faster by asking the bot to get it for you – Hey bot, send me the sales pipeline report for January. Voila! You have it right away.
How to put bots to work
There’s been a lot of hype around a bot’s capabilities. “Bots can do anything” is an unrealistic expectation, and digital leaders and others should be cognizant of that. That said, businesses are deriving tremendous value for specific, everyday use cases at the workplace.
Identify value-driven use cases for your organization. For instance, reducing the workload of frequently asked questions related to HR such as PTO, benefits, etc.— things related to employee knowledge management. Leaders must also think of integrating bots into existing business applications stack to bridge the information gap and engage with employees wherever they are.
What’s next for chatbots in the digital workplace
As we head toward a digital transformation of the workplace, businesses are slowly beginning to see the gaps that exist in their solutions that can’t quite be solved without the use of automation. Businesses already ahead of the curve are exploring ways to fill these gaps with intelligent chatbots.
Right now, we are leveraging the power of conversational AI and bots to improve the experience. But the future is more than what we can achieve today. Bots are going to help organizations identify business cases and realize their full potential for the workforce.
Today, our guest is Chad Oda. Hi, Chad. How are you today?
I’m doing excellent. Thanks for having me on.
Chad, your company and topic we’re talking about today is really interesting for a lot of people. We’re talking about bots in the workplace specifically. So why don’t you give us a little bit of overview about who you are and what your company does?
Essentially, I’m the head of consulting at Chat Mode. Chat Mode essentially helps organizations accelerate access to information inside the workplace. And we do that by leveraging chat bots, so artificially intelligent chat bots deployed on top of Microsoft Teams.
Cool. I think most of us have interacted with chat bots at some point, but maybe not in the workplace. So give us an example of how companies typically will use chat bots in a work environment.
I think probably for the last five years, a lot of the use cases around chat bots have primarily been centered around consumer facing use cases. But now organizations are finally beginning to really see the value of that same automation piece and utilized inside the workplace. So anything from knowledge management, to getting automated reports, to even interacting with ERP or CRM systems within the organization. Organizations are getting a lot of value out of that, primarily because as I stated in our mission, you can really begin to accelerate that access to information. So if you had a traditional workflow in an organization, let’s say you’re logging into a CRM system, to pull the report, you have to open your browser, you have to log into the single sign on, you have to navigate to the business application, and go through all these steps just to access a single report. And conversely, with chat bots, I think the great functionality is you get to condense that workflow, and literally just write, hey, send me the sales pipeline report for the month of January. And instantly, it’s there. So just that alone, companies are seeing tremendous amount of value.
So I want you to help us and other digital leaders out there to understand how they should think about chat bots. Because initially, we call it a bot. So it sounds like a robot. So is that like a virtual assistant that’s there to do your work for you and do your bidding whenever you tell them things, like a Siri or something like that, or is it like you also mentioned it’s just like a really condensed workflow, or a really quick way to access information. So what’s a helpful framework that you see other digital leaders using when they’re thinking about chat bots?
I’ll preface this by saying probably over the past five years, a lot of these business stakeholders have seen a lot of hype around chat bots, around what they can do in their capabilities. I’m just here to say, a lot of that hype is not realistic around, hey, it can do pretty much anything, right? It’s going to be the Alexa of the workplace. That’s just not the case. But what we are finding is that for very compartmentalized use cases, you can get a tremendous amount of value out of them. So there’s really two ways to look at chat bots, or really even extending this conversation to conversational AI. Number one, to identify these very value driven use cases that create just instant value inside of organizations. So going back to knowledge management, if I can take the workload off of some of my HR personnel, they’re getting questions all the time about PTO, about benefits, about all of these different things. And that’s really not their primary role in the organization to have to answer all these questions that people ask every single day. So if we can identify really simple use cases like that to automatically respond to those inquiries, you can get value immediately as you deploy these things.
So in one sense, it’s a way to quickly access a repository of information. So it’s like, search, but better or across multiple domains, or how would you describe that?
Essentially, there are two ways to look at chat bots. So on the first hand, it’s what type of value can we get today? And that is really identifying very simple use cases. So there’s really three. Number one is automated reports. Number two is knowledge management, how do you access knowledge faster? And number three is integrating into your existing business application stack. And you can identify simple use cases that will drive immediate value today. And then secondly, this is actually positioning you towards the future. Because over the past five years at this point, we’ve seen this huge evolution when it comes to leveraging AI. And within the next 20 years, we’re really going to be able to see what that means in the workplace, and it’s really going to begin to come to fruition. So for organizations, it’s almost an imperative not only to begin to build those core competencies, but also to drive data around these things. So for example, organizations that begin to leverage conversational AI and chat bots today are going to be able to not only leverage that data to improve their models, but it’s also going to help them identify what business cases they should be focusing on in the future, because essentially, you’re getting the raw data from your employees literally saying, I’m trying to accomplish this, or can you help me do that, which also helps you to maximize, where are you focused around development for building these in house solutions?
Great. So when somebody is thinking through how they’re going to use a chat bot, you said some of it’s automated reports, some of it’s knowledge management. I want you to go in a little bit deeper about use the word like condensed workflow, it’s almost like a really fast workflow. So how could somebody use a chat bot in a workflow process situation?
Even before we even talk about the actual use case, speaking to just condensing workflows, essentially, how we operate as employees or as business owners today is that we’re very much confined to navigating within existing graphical user interfaces, right? Whether it’s a legacy, whether they’re new UI eyes out there, everyone has to interface with those things. And most of the time, they’re distributed across different portals, different websites, different intranets. And that’s just time consuming in and of itself. In the workplace of the future is really about how does the workplace begin to work around me, and the way that I interact with the organization versus me trying to go out there to figure out how do I interact with it. So essentially, we can take these seemingly traditional workflows, or I have to move through different portals to log into different areas, and we can just easily condense that. So if you were to go to Slack, or go to Microsoft Teams, let’s say that you’re trying to access a sales pipeline report. Traditionally, you’d go through all those steps that I had previously mentioned. Instead, you can go to the chat bot, and literally say, I would like to get the sales pipeline report for the month of September. Now, instead of going through those five steps, or six steps, you would go traditionally, you literally say one thing, and then you are able to complete that action, and you can get back to work.
How would it work, too? Could you build one that would let you take paid time off? Or something like that to say, hey, I want to take these days off, and you just enter that in?
So that’s actually a really interesting question because there’s actually two ways we can go about that. The first way is we can just do a traditional knowledge base, and we can answer that specific question with a specific answer, right? However HR within an organization would traditionally reply to that, you can provide that answer. So maybe the answer is something like, hey, to take off PTO, or to utilize PTO, you need to log in here and use this portal and see how much is allocated that you still have left. But you can even begin to extend that functionality. As I had mentioned previously about integrating with your business applications, you can integrate with your existing platform, whichever one you might be using, and actually enable people to submit for PTO directly inside the chat bot. So now you’re able to begin to string and really connect and daisy chain the value inside that bot. So where previously I was just getting information, I can now get information and take an action. And now I don’t have to go to all these different places.
And that’s where I get really excited about what a chat bot can do is to be able to really be that interface, I guess, like you’re talking about, that links me as user. I don’t have to login to a lot of different systems. But even those systems can be working in the background as it goes through. That’s great. So when you’re working with a company, another person who’s wanting to build in these chat bots, what’s usually the thing that really drove them to you to say, yeah, let’s try it. I think a lot of companies are saying, like, I could see some value, but there’s just not so much benefit for me to do it today. I’ll do it later in the future when I have to. So what is it that’s driving people to really get it happening today?
That’s a really good point. So essentially, there’s two factors to that. The first one is, organizations that really understand what’s about to come when it comes to digital transformation around the workplace are beginning to see there are gaps that exist, that really can’t be solved in a financially feasible way without using some form of automation. So for example, there was a case we were working with an organization where they were distributed globally. They had offices around the world. And for their sales team to be really effective, they needed to be able to communicate. Now the problem was that not only the information they needed access, but their time zones were all different. So sometimes people were getting the information they needed several days later. And that was actually making them lose out on opportunities. And then they realized, hey, we’re already using Microsoft Teams, can we get this information to people automatically so they’re not waiting around? So organizations that are already beginning to position and really begin to see the value of AI and automation, are beginning to think about, can we fill these gaps with intelligent chat bots? So number one, it’s going to be the organizations that are ahead of the curve. Number two, we’re seeing a huge driver around just the adoption of internal messaging solutions. So Slack, Microsoft Teams, to a lesser extent, G Chat, as well as Cisco Spark, it has really proliferated organizations and businesses probably over the last five to eight years at this point. So all of these organizations and all these employees are spending so much time in these interfaces. They begin to identify, can we get more value out of them? We’ve already invested in this solution. Is there an availability to get more value optimized more out of them? So those are the really two core drivers at this point. And just as a result of the prevailing circumstances with COVID, we’re seeing an even increased adoption to some of these different concepts and implementations just because we’re all having to work from home at this point.
Chad, I want to get into a topic that is important for me as I think about what’s the center of the digital workplace, you’re talking about interfaces, you’re talking about people spending a lot of time in chat. I think for a while the central digital interface that most of us used was your email client. So it got to the point where you could pretty much spend your whole day inside email, just answering things, throwing things back and forth and still feeling like you’re doing work. For a lot of us, some people are still stuck there. Some people have moved out of that. But where we moved to often is these chat interfaces, where it’s just like email, just now it’s super fast to get things back and forth. And maybe it’s a little bit easier to organize your thoughts and conversations you have. But a lot of the same struggles that we have with email, or there within Slack or Microsoft Teams, where it’s like you’re constantly on, you’re constantly having these notifications bringing back to you. I’m not trying to destroy your business model. But just thinking about the good of the digital workplace, is it good to keep people in these interfaces and say, hey, now that you’re here, let’s just do everything here. Let’s provide all these Slack integrations, let’s provide these chat bots inside Microsoft Teams to keep you here. Or should we be thinking about a different platform that’s a little bit more helpful for people as they try to do their work and focus in?
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think organizations and how they operate will tend to gravitate towards the medium of productivity. So traditionally, it’s been email. But I think as we’ve seen over the last several years, there’s just been this increasing glut and just like noise when it comes to email that at this point, when you talk to people about it, they almost have this sentiment about, man, my inbox is so full, apologies for not getting back to you. And it really has become this blocker. But as we begin to shift to messaging, this has not just been like a enterprise activity. If we look at the consumer space, everyone is using Messenger, everyone’s using WhatsApp, and Signal and all these different chat interfaces. And I think what it’s getting at is, that’s the way that people are looking to interact today. That’s the behavior that people are finding the most frictionless experience. So I think when it comes to whether or not we should be focusing our time and building applications in a specific area, I think it really just comes down to let’s identify, what’s the existing behavior today? What’s the one that’s most frictionless that people are spending the majority of time conducting business and build around that. And that’s really the trend that we see around Microsoft Teams and Slack. And we think that by adding these automations into Microsoft Teams or into Slack, it’s just overall a better experience because we can begin to cut down that friction even more. And all the business applications are coming to you. You’re not having to go out there in the ecosystem and try to find them.
I hear what you’re saying. I totally agree, like to be able to improve that experience when you’re already in that place is a good thing. I’m just looking down the road and saying, okay, if we get fed up with email, it took us 20 years to get to the point where we don’t like it anymore. How long will that take with Teams and with Slack? Will we get to the same place where it’s just like, oh, my gosh, I’m overloaded with so many things. I need something new to move out of. And I do see a future of some kind of either voice or chat assistant that’s there to help you navigate through these processes. Whether or not it’s inside a messaging platform or not, I’m not sure, but that’s what I’m wrestling with right now thinking through what’s the most healthy way that we can let people work in a calm way that they’re not having to be stressed out by all the messages they’re missing.
I think speaking to that point of where the future is going, I absolutely agree it’s going to be this combination of voice and chat bots and messaging. And the great thing with chat bots is the underlying technology, which is natural language processing, is actually the same technology that powers voice. So as we’re seeing the adoption of these technologies, we’re seeing chat bots getting the most traction right now, because it’s the most mature technology when it comes to natural language processing. But we’re beginning to see the evolution of voice. It’s not exactly here yet, because it’s not quite robust enough. But the benefit is if you invest in chat bots today, you can leverage those same data sets, those same models as you transition to voice in the future. And the vision that we see is this very decoupled experience in the future. You’re not going to be binded to one specific platform. As you alluded to, the futures really about, how does the workplace work around us? How does it benefit the end user the most in the way that they want to interact? What’s flexible for them? So I absolutely agree. And I would also say that making the first steps, just in conversational AI today, will allow you to transition more easily in the future.
I agree with that. That seems to be a consistent message that we hear from other guests is that if you haven’t experimented with automation, you shouldn’t wait till you have to. You should try it now. And then in the future, you’re going to benefit from all the data you’ve been generating, all the practice you’ve had with it, and you’ll know how to use it better in the future. I’m not saying we’re at the end all be all right now. And this is where you should take advantage. So I hear the same thing from you saying like, yeah, chat bots, as they exist today, inside these platforms may not be what we’re using in 5 to 10 years, but they’re going to set you up for the next step up. And if you’re not there right now, you need to be up there. That makes a lot of sense. Chad, this has been great to learn more about this technology, how things are going. Where can you leave us in terms of you looking forward to the future when it comes to getting business done? We talk about the levels of a digital workplace from level one up to level five, where do you see level five collaboration going when it comes to actually how we’re able to interact both with other people and also with the processes, the machines, the databases and seeing those as a seamless connection? Where are we headed?
That’s a great question. I think the best way to think about this is to consider what employee experience is. We know what customer experience is and we’re beginning to see these heightened levels of how we make people’s lives easier, and how these organizations are creating these curated experiences around the customer. And in that same mentality, we’re beginning to slow, at a slower pace, unfortunately. But we’re seeing increased traction in the right place around employee experience. It’s about how do we adapt to the specific behaviors of how the end user, the employee, is looking to achieve some sort of task. And then we’re building technology that allows them to accomplish that in faster, more flexible, more user friendly ways. So when we think about the future, going back to what I’ve mentioned, it’s going to be this decoupling in regards to we’re not going to be forced to use these specific user interfaces. The interfaces will be orchestrated around us. So if we want to use a chat bot, we can use that. If we want to use a chat bot in conjunction with voice or in conjunction with, let’s say, computer vision, or AR VR, that will be in availability. So essentially, the future comes down to flexibility in regards to how I want to accomplish a task, which essentially will create these dynamic experiences that are very specific and context driven, based upon the end user. So that’s where I see just all interaction going probably within the next five years at this point. And there’s a real emerging keyword around that. And we’re beginning to see that dropped by the major incumbent organizations, so your Googles, or Microsoft, your Facebooks of the world. And essentially, the key word around that is ambient computing. And we’re going to begin to see more and more of information and releases by organizations around this concept. Effectively, what it means is, you’re having your data, your business applications, the way you interact with them, orchestrated in a way that is going to be contextually relevant to you. And the great thing today is taking these small steps around automation, whether that’s RPA or whether that’s conversational AI, or even AR in some circumstances, is going to enable you to get to that point, whether that’s 5 years or 10 years, where the orchestration is mature enough to facilitate truly the workplace of the future.
I love it. I think that’s a great way to think about it and a great way to move forward to the future. Chad, people want to know more about you, your company, your stuff, where should they go?
Chad, thanks so much for being on the show. We appreciate you sharing what you know with us and we look forward to interacting with you again soon.
Absolutely. I appreciate you having me on here, Neil. Talk soon.
Chat Oda is the Head of Consulting for Chat Mode.