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Opinion

Chatbots: Could they replace your intranet?

Maybe, just maybe

Rob McWhirter

Rob McWhirter

Chatbots have huge potential to change the way we work.

They have the power to revolutionise HR tasks like requesting time off, booking meeting rooms and approving expenses. It’s been talked about in posts by Intranetizen and Simply Communicate. One blog writes that:

“The most obviously examples involve any routine query that an employee or manager might make”

Something like the Vacation Tracker for Slack, for example:

 

There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of potential for companies to make things more efficient here. Taking paper-based systems online has been done badly for a long time, particularly on intranets, and it’s something that bots can clean up.

However creating bots for individual tasks is one thing, but can they actually replace your intranet? 

Defining the intranet

First, let’s define what an intranet does. For me, it’s about five things:

  • Finding internal content and information
  • Finding people
  • Reading/publishing/distributing internal news
  • Enabling collaboration
  • Workflows and tools (the stuff talked about in the intro)

For some of these things, it’s easy to envisage a bot doing a very good job.

It’s quite easy to see a bot distributing internal news (Quartz do this for normal news), messaging apps can deal with collaboration and, as discussed, chatbots are well placed to deal with workflows. But, the one that hasn’t been talked about much and what I want to focus on, is that pillar of the intranet, internal content.

A chatbot for content

People don’t want miracles, they just want to find the information that they want quickly. The big question is how a chatbot can fit into one of the intranet’s major functions, the Knowledge Library. Can it really be a useful way to present this information, or is it just a glorified search engine?

The intranet is all about finding content that people need to do their jobs quickly and efficiently. Navigating knowledge libraries that contain thousands of articles on a range of subjects.

Enter: Slackbot

Well, there is a tool that does this already, albeit not for internal content. Slack’s built in bot, Slackbot, provides help content and links to articles in their help library. It is a pretty good way of getting content quickly.

Here’s me asking it how to do something:

 

 

It immediately provides a snippet of information about my request. I’m able to access it from my phone and the desktop app — very convenient.

This could work just as well with internal content; you might use it to find out information that you need to do your job. For example:

Me: “Show me brand guidelines”

Chatbot: Our brand guidelines are as follows:

Colours: Teal (#019588), white (#ffffff), green (#5A6666)

Fonts: Soleil, Helvetica Neue

Font sizes: H1: 2.5em, H2: 2em, p: 1em

There’s more info in the article, Twine brand guidelines in the Knowledge Library.

This would give me quick and easy access to the key information in the article. If I need more detail, I can delve deeper in the Knowledge Library, just in the way that Slack do.

 

 

Our intranet’s internal library is structured in a similar way:

 

 

In linking the bot to the library, you’re making that content easier to access straight from the app. The bot compliments, not replaces, the intranet. It’s a clever and super accessible search function.

How this fits into the ‘digital ecosystem’

An intranet is good at bringing disparate functions together. Can a chatbot achieve the same thing? Maybe.

Messaging platforms can do an excellent job at combining many tools into one place, on a platform that already exists (Slack, FB Messenger), and that might already have good adoption.

Could you see yourself flipping through your company chatbots on your phone?

 

 

On the flipside, it’s radically different to want we consider to be an intranet at the moment. But maybe, just maybe, those companies that dare to experiment will be handsomely rewarded with better adoption and more efficient working.

Looking to the future

This concept starts to get more interesting when you consider the trajectory of chatbots. At the moment it’s another way to search content and input data, but as bots become more sophisticated and natural language processing improves, the concept becomes even more powerful. Once we team these things up with the progress being made with voice recognition, I think we’ll start to see a complete transformation in the way workplace tools are used.

Dealing with the now

For now, a mix of both seems the way forward. The intranet is certainly here to stay, but a bot might be an effective way of making it better accessible.

A lightweight knowledge library combined with an intelligent chatbot could be the workplace library. It’s not a replacement for the intranet, just another way into it using apps you already use (messenger, slack, etc). Adoption and accessibility are two things that are obsessed over when evaluating the success of an intranet. If a chatbot can prove its value and crack both of them, it will prove the sceptics wrong.

And cringing at the past

Really the future or just a fad? We’ll have to wait and see – but whatever happens, let’s just pray that a certain paperclip doesn’t make a return…