Emerging Technology

When It Comes to Solving Problems for Your Company, Task Bots Can Help

From IT support to admin tasks, task bots are reshaping the way that offices operate. Learn more about the task bots that are making your office life better.

June 3, 2018

From IT support to administrative tasks, task automation bots (or task bots) are reshaping the way that companies operate. There is no shortage of chatbots, or bots, that will perform micro-tasks for you—from reminding you to take a break, following up on assigned tasks, or helping you schedule a meeting with a colleague, to telling you the weather, checking up on how you feel, or notifying you that a new TED talk has been uploaded. By micro-task, we mean a very simple action that you might take, like opening a website to look for new content or emailing a coworker to find out when they’re available to meet. Just browse Kore’s bot shop or the more than one thousand bots available on Slack to get a sense of the mind-boggling number of bots you could use to automate small tasks you do throughout your workday.

Task bots can serve higher-level functions, too. More than just notifying you of something—they can also take actions for you, offer back-and-forth interaction to accomplish a task that previously required human communication, or provide information that otherwise entailed a laborious acquisition process. In the areas of HR, IT, recruiting, productivity, and sales, bots are expediting time-consuming tasks. And, in the future, we expect further developments in these areas. Additionally, new bots can replace human time and labor in areas like procurement and financial management, and they can learn how to work together to create new levels of support for the human workforce.

IT Help Desk bots

Any IT professional will tell you they spend a lot of time explaining things to help out non-IT pros. Some of these issues are simple enough that a bot can help resolve them. The Smart Bot for IT Help Desk from Kore can reset passwords, find answers to knowledge base questions, create a new incident (and either handle it or escalate it to a person), and much more. Acuvate’s IT Help Desk bot helps users troubleshoot hardware and software problems, resets passwords (a common and time-consuming task for IT), and keeps employees updated on outages, among other things.

With effective bots, IT professionals can shift their work time from keeping the lights on to transforming business operations.

HR bots

The human resources department is another place where the vast majority of professional time goes toward supporting employees in one way or another. While that’s as it should be, there are many small tasks HR professionals do that can be outsourced to bots—freeing up HR’s time for tasks that require a human touch.

Jane, a chatbot from Loka, answers employee questions on topics that range from holidays to insurance, shares info about new benefits, and handles many other informational requests. What’s more, Jane uses analytics and sentiment analysis to find out if there are common problems in a workplace, thus giving HR professionals more information about issues they might need to address. At Overstock, a bot named Mila replaced the company’s call-in hotline and now interacts with employees who are calling in sick, finds out which responsibilities they need to have covered, and alerts a manager. Surbo’s HR Assistant bot can manage reimbursement claims, employee account info, travel arrangements, and exit interviews.

Recruiting

The process of identifying good job candidates eats up a lot of time, and the risk of hiring the wrong person for the job can be quite expensive. Task automation bots are helping save time and cut costs by reaching and qualifying good candidates and by keeping them engaged throughout the application process.

Ideal’s recruiting chatbot can help pre-screen candidates, respond quickly to keep them engaged, and reach passive candidates. Sutherland decided to use a chatbot, Tasha, to address candidate drop-off. She’s a guide to answer questions, get candidates to the next stage of the hiring process, and even alert them to other jobs within the company. Also, if candidates leave the hiring process, she can collect helpful information about why they chose to do so. Ari, a recruiting chatbot from TextRecruit and IBM Watson, can be customized with brand tone and message.

Productivity

Many businesses need assistance being more productive with everything from to-do lists and goal-setting to delegation and effective use of meetings. Not surprisingly, there is a wide array of bots on Slack and elsewhere designed to assist with these tasks. Many productivity bots help with such micro-tasks (for example, Jarvis reminds employees to get off Facebook and back to work), but others are taking on more complex aspects of productivity.

Todoist is the result of adding AI functions to a calendaring or task management service. The bot organizes your schedule for you, taking into account days of the week (for example, it doesn’t schedule your professional activities on a Sunday), your habits, task priorities, and other factors. It learns both from you and from the user base to make more accurate adjustments over time.

Scheduling a meeting shouldn’t take as much time as the meeting itself. Meekan, on Slack, makes sure that doesn’t happen. This bot uses participants’ calendars to find free times, reschedules them if necessary, and coordinates across time zones—and it tells you what’s coming up on your calendar, so you don’t have to leave Slack.

Sales

As with customer service, sales departments benefit from faster and more informed responses, and these teams quickly run into human limitations. There are many places in the sales cycle where task bots can complement the team—for instance, by speeding up response times and improving lead quality.

For starters, sales teams can spend less time in their CRM with Troops, a Slackbot that fetches customer data from Salesforce for you while you’re chatting in Slack about that particular customer. The sales chatbot from ubisend is on hand—all the time—to answer questions that prospects may have about your products or services, and it does so in your brand’s voice and language. Another task bot from Acuvate, SIA, is designed to chat with leads and acquire data to help a sales team make more informed decisions.

The future of task bots

This is far from a comprehensive accounting of the task bots out there that are helping enterprises change the way they do business, both internally and externally. And even though there are already many bots on the market, we’re really seeing just the beginnings of their potential, as AI capabilities—particularly natural language processing (NLP) and deep learning—advance.

Here are just some of the possibilities.

Supply chain management

We haven’t yet seen bots for this field, but they’re certainly coming. Procurement is a particular area of interest in which to integrate task bots. They may be able to take cold calls from suppliers, place low-value purchase orders, manage paperwork, provide lists of possible suppliers, and monitor KPIs. With bots taking over many routine procurement tasks, humans will have more time to address strategy.

Financial management

Accounting department personnel could be supplemented with task automation bots that perform account reconciliations, calculate allocations, perform invoice matches, process expense claims, and create reports. A bot might be dedicated to analyzing business expenses and identifying ways to cut back or areas that need increased funding. McKinsey predicts that bots will change the landscape of the entire financial industry, and these changes will certainly be mirrored in financial departments within individual companies and organizations.

Office culture

Perhaps in a couple of years, your office will have a bot that takes polls of everyone’s favorite activities, looks for nearby options, and schedules regular social outings for the team. A bot might mediate minor disagreements using the relational styles of ELIZA or Woebot, in addition to language approved by management and HR. Bots might even reach out regularly to remote workers so that they don’t feel out of touch with the workplace.

Productivity

With so many bots in existence to help with productivity micro-tasks, it’s time for the next generation of productivity bots. Rather than a bot that can pull data from just the CRM, we may see a bot that can pull data from every software management system a company uses. As AI language capabilities advance, productivity bots can serve as personal assistants to any employee who wants one. Such bots can do even more to help keep employees on track throughout the day, make sure that meetings aren’t interrupting critical tasks (and intercede when they are), and give employees and managers alike insight into how and where productivity needs improvement.

Bot collaboration and integration

Perhaps the most exciting changes will happen as bots start to work with each other. Currently, bots integrate with messaging platforms and with various types of software, but usually only with one particular platform or piece of software. In the future, one bot can integrate with all the platforms workers use. What’s more, research is underway to teach bots to understand language rather than just to combine and reproduce given sets of words and phrases. Bots can then begin using language and interacting with humans in a new way—perhaps even offering services instead of just functioning in pre-programmed ways. We’ll continue to benefit from bots, as they collaborate, integrate, and help solve problems for companies around the globe.