In 2016, a computer science professor named Ashok Goel played a trick on his students at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Goel announced that he had hired a new teaching assistant named Jill Watson. He neglected to add that Jill was a chatbot who answered online questions from Goel’s students by applying some three million logic rules to parse 200 million pages of documents.
Jill was smart and friendly, sometimes answering questions with a perky “Yep!” And she had a ferocious work ethic. Students struggling with Goel’s problem sets quickly learned that Jill would answer questions at any hour of the day or night, replying with a slight delay that Goel programmed into her code to avoid giving the game away.
Goel kept Jill’s identity secret until the end of the semester, when he outed her as a chatbot powered by IBM’s Watson platform. In his TED talk about the experiment, Goel said most of his students were surprised to learn that Jill wasn’t human. This suggests that she passed Alan Turing’s famous test to determine artificial intelligence.
At the end of the day, chatbots are simply an interface between users and digital platforms that run cloud applications. Organizations increasingly run on a small number of big platforms maintained by the likes of Microsoft, IBM and ServiceNow, the publisher of Workflow. As Accenture CIO Andrew Wilson put it in an interview that we published earlier this year, CIOs are responsible for making these platforms work together, ensuring “cross‑platform collaboration in the cloud.” As geeky as that sounds, it’s what you need to digitize any business process that spans multiple teams and functions.
Much of what goes on inside any organization can be reduced to a series of transactions between requesters (people who need something done) and fulfillers (people who provide that service). In education, requester/fulfiller transactions define the relationship between students and human teachers or artificial tutor bots. They also define most business functions, from customer service to IT service management, procurement, legal services and HR.
Requester/fulfiller transactions can be automated to the extent that they involve repeatable steps. In turn, those automated processes are powered by platforms. HR is a case in point. By their nature, HR processes tend to span traditional business silos. For example, onboarding a new employee requires coordination across the enterprise. Facilities management finds you a place to sit, IT provides your laptop and phone, security issues your badge, finance sets up your payroll deductions, and so on.
For managers, onboarding has historically been a painful process that required a whole lot of phone calls and emails. Using a digital service management platform, organizations can deploy onboarding apps that automate the entire process so that new hires can hit the ground running. Their managers get to spend less time on bureaucratic busy work and more time creating value for customers and shareholders.
That helps explain why so many HR departments are using digital platforms to automate common processes. In a recent ServiceNow survey of more than 500 CHROs in 12 countries across 20 industries, 48% of respondents said that in the next three years they expect to adopt platform models to help bring consistency to HR operations and encourage cross‑functional collaboration, up from 14% today.
As we show in the current edition of Workflow, digital platforms are reshaping the employee experience in all sorts of ways. Danny Bradbury covers new AI tools that can identify ethical lapses inside organizations, often before they happen. Riva Froymovich takes us inside a Singapore telco that combines high‑tech and high‑touch approaches to recruiting, using chatbots, intelligent targeting and great parties to attract top talent.
You need trained employees to realize the full potential of digital platforms. That’s why so many companies are investing in re‑skilling programs that train employees to work collaboratively with AI, as Howard Rabinowitz reports in his article, “Train to win”.
I hope you enjoy Workflow. We’ll be covering platform strategy in depth over the next few months, bringing you fresh insights on digital tools and processes that can help organizations deliver the great experiences that employees and customers want.