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Meet the HR Bots – the tech trend that’s here to stay

ServiceNow tell us why they acquired Intellibot.

Jennifer Dunkerley

Technologist

Artificial Intelligence Bots
@thanmano via Twenty20

Unleash Your Potential Bots have been around for a while — but the new wave of AI tech is supercharging them for HR.

  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is software technology that makes it easy to automate digital tasks.
  • 80% of the Fortune 500 are trying to drive automation across a mix of legacy and modern applications.
  • NASA’s RPA pilot across its HR applications found that 86% of transactions could be completed without human intervention.

While much of the future of work still seems uncertain, acceleration into automation seems like a pretty safe bet. A new wave of intelligent bots has been let out of the labs this spring — and they’re ready to take care of business in ways you cannot.

ServiceNow’s acquisition last week of the robotic process automation (RPA) company Intellibot is now set to be the showpiece of their much-hyped 2022 San Diego release.

“San Diego is the spiritual home of ServiceNow, so this is will be one hell of a party with a lot of big moves,”

Chris Pope, their Global VP of Innovation tells me.

But even if you can’t wait that long – there’s evidence they are sneaking their way into workplaces already and the possibilities are scaling fast.

WHY NOW?

With the remote work revolution and the hybrid workforce set to stay, monitoring and improving performance wherever you are has become the task of the supercharged AI bots.

Without a physical boss in the old-fashioned sense standing over you in the office checking your work, the bots are diligently watching, capturing data to help improve your workflow. And they’re only ramping up their superpowers.

Robotic Process Automation is software technology that makes it easy to automate digital tasks. With RPA, software users create software robots, or “bots”, that can learn, mimic, and then execute rules-based business processes.  

This is supercharged when all businesses whether office-based, remote or hybrid, need to be more agile.  

Sitting down for a (virtual) chat with UNLEASH, ServiceNow’s Global VP of Innovation Chris Pope explains that pushing the possibilities of AI has become his number one priority in 2021 and beyond.

“I run the team of innovation evangelists and with a name like Pope it’s quite fitting really,” he says. “We want to take our customers on a journey of possibility with technology.

“Imagine a world where you did this, or when you did that, or we all pivot to working from home for good, and the new reality is we’re not going back. What does good now look like now? And all those things that we traditionally did in the office are all gone. What does the workplace look like now? We’re pushing the boundaries of making this future space even better.”

Chris Pope, Global VP of Innovation for ServiceNow

Put simply, AI bots can support three important business needs: automating business processes, gaining insight through data analysis, and engaging with customers and employees.

In their release announcement, Josh Kahn, SVP of Creator Workflow Products at ServiceNow said: “Our customers represent nearly 80% of the Fortune 500, and the vast majority are trying to drive automation across a mix of legacy and modern applications.

“With Intellibot, we will extend ServiceNow’s ability to help customers connect systems so they can easily automate workflows and drive productivity.”

THE RISE OF AI

Last year, ServiceNow bought five companies including Element AI, Loom Systems, Passage AI and Sweagle to help companies create end-to-end automation. These robotic process automation will boost the current automation capabilities of ServiceNow.

In organizations where manual work is weighing down every area of the business, unlimited bots are capable of sparking an amazing transformation. Think of the power of one bot on every desktop, tackling all the mundane tasks that keep employees from more meaningful work. Then imagine adding in bots that work between departments, connecting critical business processes and applications that touch multiple parts of the business.

And while this isn’t a new trend, the innovation and future capabilities of the bots is what’s grabbing the attention of the big guns.

“You’re right, RPA isn’t necessarily a new technology in the sense of it,” Pope explains. “But while there are always new problems to solve, there will always be better ways of solving them. And as the technology matures, and gets better, and all those other good things, it sort of becomes more consumerized and adopted.

[Read more: Service Now launches new Artificial Intelligence tool]

“We’re more likely to use it in the enterprise, right? Who knows what goes on behind the scenes at Amazon? Magic, apparently. Things will appear at your house and good things happen when you don’t even need them, right? But in the enterprise, getting work done, outside of your department, your organization can often very siloed and difficult.

“What we’ve done over time is, as a workflow company, is find ways of automating things and understanding things through new insight AI and machine learning. But there’s still a lot of human tasks out there and manual tasks that would only get done with the proximity of us being in a building together.”

Working from home
@DimaBerlin via Twenty20

“Now, we’re all disparate all over the world, you need things that take the place of that on a more permanent basis,” Pope says. “This acquisition gives us a preset library or catalog of lots of those things already. So we don’t need to go and build a whole catalog of things necessarily of how it works with workday, or Success Factors, or SAP or any number of different Oracle suites; Intellibot already built a lot of those things.”

WHO IS INTELLIBOT?

Intellibot was founded in 2015 by CEO Raghu “Alekh” Barli, CTO Srikanth Vemulapalli, and COO Kushang Moorthy. The financial terms of the deal with ServiceNow were not disclosed.

With the adoption of various features and functionalities, ServiceNow’s planned launch will help organizations be more agile.

Pope continues: “And what Intellibot also does is it starts to identify candidates for automation, and says, ‘Hey, can you see me do this thing repetitively over and over?’ and humans are involved in it , it takes this amount of time, with a rate card applied?.’ Well I can say actually, every time that runs it costs, you know, however, 1000s or whatever dollars the more you do that, so it almost starts to build business cases for you to go and automate these things. And this is when the ROI potentially starts to look quite exciting.”

@thanmano via Twenty20

While we’ll have to wait a short while for the real bells and whistles of the San Diego release from ServiceNow, but many examples of AI bots in the workplaces are already out there.

Recently, Microsoft announced a new low-code programming language Power Fx for its Microsoft Power Platform. And at NASA, recent cost pressures led the agency to launch four RPA pilots in accounts payable and receivable, IT spending, and human resources — all managed by a shared services center.

The four projects worked well — in the HR application, for example, 86% of transactions were completed without human intervention — and are being rolled out across the organization. NASA is now implementing more RPA bots, some with higher levels of intelligence. As Jim Walker, project leader for the shared services organization said, “So far it’s not rocket science.”

INFINITY AND BEYOND

So what are the future possibilities of the bots if pushing the boundaries is the goal?

Pope reveals: “It’s like the adoption of a lot of technologies — initially, they’re very toy-like, you know, and if you think about augmented and virtual reality, they still are in the gaming industry. These bots still are bit toy-like for us but are quickly getting adopted by the mainstream.

“If you look at the way Netflix recommends things to you based on your preferences and stored data, people do quickly become familiar with it, and they understand that it’s essentially what’s going on in the background all the now.

“I think in organizations and enterprises, we’re starting to see the fact that we’re not scaling as humans, when obviously we are still taking on more work but we can’t actually do more work. So the financial positive EBIT (Earnings before interest and taxes), repositories and some smart person taking insights every day that they didn’t see before can help us find ways of working in situations we weren’t anticipating.

“What we’re trying not to do is just say, ‘Hey, ServiceNow has got AI, what do you want to do with it?’ Instead, we’re offering a prescriptive use case or scenario of where it can help you. One of the things we launched in Quebec last month was process optimization where you design your process your way. What process optimization does is dig into the detail and say, actually, this is where the bottleneck is.

“It identifies places or people that generally holds things up. It gives you the insights into fixing processes, actually finding the bottlenecks and the challenges. And I think the more you know, the more we come with prescriptive use cases that people see the benefit making work easier and more efficient.

“I would love to have a bot on my shoulder, looking at my work and actively suggesting things I could do better.

“Imagine a bot popping up saying, ‘Hey, I think you’ve done that a couple of times today. Maybe I could do it for you?’ So I think it will only get a lot better and richer over time. But I think it’s about those prescriptive use cases of where can we automate work. Or where the bot can let you help yourself, self-serve and self-heal, where potentially you don’t need to go and interact with it or interact with HR or finance or marketing. You should be able to get to the answers, you need much quicker.

“I think there’s still, dare I say, quite a few burning or legacy platforms out there in use that aren’t necessarily well enabled with API’s so the integrations are still difficult or clunky. And that’s where the bots can absolutely swoop in and do a lot of that time-consuming manual work for us that replaces the human doing it,” Pope concludes.

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