Event recap: “Bots in the Real World: Truth, Hype and Demos”
A lot of us long for the day we can kick up our feet and let Cortana manage our professional lives. Or we worry that our jobs will be stolen by bots.
This month at the Melbourne Office 365 Business User Group (BUG), they took a shot at cutting through the hype and getting to something practical.
Facilitated by Engage Squared and hosted at Microsoft’s office at Southbank, they had 90+ registrants and a full house on the day.
Host Jack Hendy (an adoption specialist at Engage Squared) kicked off the session with…
“What’s new in Office 365”:
- Cortana can be tagged in emails to help arrange meetings (Your personal assistant, just @Cortana)
- New Q&A functionality in Yammer (Lets you mark answers to questions)
- Microsoft Whiteboard App (Allows you to add reactions, integrates with SurfaceHub and has “ink beautification”: Bad handwriting? No worries)
- PowerPoint-designed slides (Make your company’s branding consistent using custom templates and automated suggestions)
- New customisable and unified Microsoft Search (A reason to use Bing)
AnswerBot: Going with the Flow
Their first presenter, Jason Soo from law firm Hill and Wilcox, introduced us to the basic Question and Answer (QnA) bot, enhanced with Flow. The bot solution leveraged Flow’s approval workflow, allowing the bot to update its QnA knowledge base with new answers to new questions.
This bot/Flow duo:
- Captured questions from a Yammer group (this could be any ‘front door’/entry point, such as an intranet or website)
- Answered questions parsed through the Azure QnA Maker
- If the question is “like for like” or the answer has a high degree of confidence (an adjustable setting in QnA Maker), the response is posted in Yammer
- If the confidence score is low or no match has been found, an approval flow is triggered which then presents a subject matter expert with the question, a potential answer and an option to submit another answer
- This can be extremely powerful for enterprise-wide bots, as subject matter experts can be tied to different knowledge bases (owned by different portfolios/organisational groups), all connected to one bot
- The answer, once accepted in Yammer, is automatically added back to the associated knowledge base
Apart from the ‘learning’ AnswerBot is capable of, she can be used to drive uptake and draw audiences to platforms like Yammer.
Jason also showed how he was able to set up AnswerBot (Flow not included) in 5 minutes using an Ignite video found here.
Codee: Journey from FAQs to Teams Governance
Next on deck was Adrian Tan and Sarah Aquilina from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Codee started her journey as an Office 365 FAQ assistant and is currently on the road to becoming much more, starting off with Teams Governance.
How do you transition an organisation of 13000 people off Lotus notes and onto Office 365 while keeping up with basic (but necessary) queries?
The answer was Codee (formally known as BAE).
Codee is a basic QnA bot (living in Teams) that also leverages the Azure QnA Maker. Sarah, a non-technical stakeholder, showed how she was able to use the QnA maker to manage and improve the bot without needing help from the rest of her team.
The related cost of Azure consumption and virtual machines in the cloud was also discussed. The group agreed that different business problems called for different levels of investment and the free options provided by Microsoft to trial bots made it easy to get started. Generally, the ROI associated with the automation of answers to high-volume, repetitive questions was seen to pay for the initial outlay quite quickly.
Adrian, the program manager at DHHS concluded that paying the monthly cost to maintain Codee allowed his team to focus their efforts on activities more impactful to the business.
Codee is currently being developed to have the ability to create Teams at DHHS and asking for Teams names, owners and settings during the provisioning process.
ZELA: The Truth and the Hype
Elaine Van Bergen finished off with the (not so cold) hard truth: bots are just apps.
They’re apps that can be used to supplement other content in areas such as websites, Yammer and Teams.
In its more advanced stages, a bot:
- Can be used to greet and attempt to assist users (and refer them to humans if sentiment analysis or the specificity of the questions warrant it)
- Can be used with voice recognition or integrated with IVRs to provide feedback and activate workflows
While these examples are exciting, Elaine emphasised that while it’s easy to create bots and get immediate returns, any complexity or customisation will find you needing developers. It was also recommended to run basic bot projects before delving into more technical projects.
Elaine then introduced ZELA to the group.
ZELA is Microsoft’s internally built bot that assists with high-volume, low-risk queries to the legal department which previously lead to bottlenecks. ZELA helps with:
- Answering self-help queries such as “where can I find…”
- Client requests for support
- Answering general, front-line questions from clients
The group agreed ZELA was a good example of fast value-for-effort and was intrigued by its use in a department as critical as Legal.
The session concluded with a prize giveaway, thanks to sponsorship by Logitech.
If you’re in interested in future Business User Group meetups, please join them and us at the next meeting!
 DHHS, ‘People Strategy 2020’, Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria, 2017, p 15, https://dhhs.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/201708/People-strategy-2020_2017-07-03.pdf, (accessed 4 July 2019).