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[1] 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!

Melbourne: https://www.meetup.com/Melbourne-Office-365-Business-User-Group/

Sydney: https://www.meetup.com/Sydney-Office-365-Business-User-Group/

 

 

[1] 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).

Working with the AI Spark partner program

Engage Squared recently had the opportunity to spend two days in Hobart with our partner LiveTiles, as part of their AI Spark Partner Program.  

AI Spark is a Microsoft and LiveTiles accelerator program for partners working with the LiveTiles Bots platform. Through the program, Engage Squared will be able to build AI capabilities that we can use to help customers develop and deploy AI solutions. 

LiveTiles Bots is a ‘no-code’ bot builder powered by Microsoft Azure’s bot framework and language understanding intelligence service. It takes a huge amount of the complexity and required technical know-how out of the bot-building process, allowing users to quickly create an AI tool relevant to their needs. 

We’ve been hearing more and more of our customers talking and asking about bots and AI, and it’s clearly an area set for a huge amount of growth, with enormous opportunities for businesses to take advantage of the technology to transform the way they and their people work. 

We’ve learned so much about bots and artificial intelligence over the past few days, being able to work with a no code solution that integrates with so many SaaS based applications, utilising complementary technologies such as Microsoft Flow has clearly outlined why AI is of great focus to Microsoft. 

Using the LiveTiles bot platform means the approach to building bots becomes less about investing technical effort and navigating technological boundaries, and much more about understanding what our customers are trying to achieve and supporting them with the design thinking process that is necessary to deliver a successful bot scenario, and the creation of custom connectors to the services and platforms they use.  

This flexibility is a testament to how LiveTiles have made it so easy to configure a bot and connect into an enormous number of data sources – basically any that have exposed API’s. 

The wide-ranging two-day AI Spark workshop started off with a review of the underlying Microsoft bot framework and suite of AI services, followed by a detailed walkthrough of the LiveTiles Bot product, and how it overlays the technology to provide a far simpler interface for users.  

We talked about the value of bots and some of the many real-world use cases that they can help with, from HR Bots returning your leave balances, to a public facing bot that helps customers check the status of their order and answer complex questions instead of calling a dedicated support number.  

Through this process, it became apparent that the quality of data and inputs in a production scenario was something that needed to be reviewed and be given thought to spend the time working on retrieving quality data, and putting it into a format that works well for a bot interface.  

We also discussed some of the many lessons that LiveTiles have learned from working with customers to develop bots. For example, often there is a temptation to want to jump straight into building an “uber-bot” that can do everything, but typically a much more successful approach is to start by thinking about your most valuable use cases and starting with one or more simpler, targeted bots that do one thing well – this approach is quicker, more reliable and more likely to be a success. From there, we can start to build on this success and look to more advanced things like starting to combine bots’ abilities. 

We also got a sneak peek of some of the many enhancements and innovations that LiveTiles are continuing to work on to make the platform increasingly useful and powerful for users. Bots and AI are set to be a major growth area and both Microsoft and LiveTiles have made clear that this is an area they will continue to invest in heavily with native integration with different systems and an evolving language model. 

The second day of the workshop was spent rolling our sleeves up with LiveTiles Bots and getting into some rapid prototyping. We brainstormed some use cases that would be valuable internally at Engage Squared, and after settling on two examples started to build our custom bots. This was a great experience to put what we had learned into practice and get us practicing design thinking, solving problems and building our familiarity with the product and everything it can do. We’re looking forward to putting some finishing touches on our working bot prototypes and sharing them with the team back at Engage Squared! 

If you think your organisation could use a bot to help your staff, or it’s something you would like to know more about, we would love to chat to you about how bots can help to drive productivity and bridge gaps between systems and users, contact us to arrange an overview of LiveTiles bots. 

 

Written by Thomas Lalor & James Di Blasi