Boosting Productivity in Office 365 Through AI

By  | Mar 26, 2018

Office 365 is an ever-changing ecosystem of tools designed to address all kinds of business needs. The tools and services help us stay organized, communicate, automate tasks and more. And while the existing tools can help boost productivity on their own, organizations can also customize Office 365 applications to tailor productivity enhancements to their own needs. Artificial intelligence (AI) provides a unique opportunity to personalize the user experience, automate tasks and eliminate trivial processes.

Common Causes of Productivity Losses

Employees suffer through some fairly common problems that result in productivity losses. Over the years, several reports have been published by McKinsey and others suggesting that workers spend about 20 percent of their time searching for content or tracking down others who can help answer their questions and solve their problems. Businesses spend money developing search services, building intranets, organizing their information architecture, social apps and communication tools, and even setting up low-tech solutions like work buddy systems to help alleviate these time sinks. AI offers us another course of action with many possibilities.

One way to introduce AI into an organization is through bots. Bots are apps that you can interact with via a chat-style interface as though you were having a conversation with an actual person. Building bots that provide answers to frequently asked questions is a very good and fairly easy way to get started with AI. One example is a bot that answers HR questions like “When does open enrollment begin?” or “Where can I find the employee handbook?”

Bots’ ability to parse natural language makes them even more compelling. Bot services can take sentences structured in different ways and still provide the users with the correct response. For example, a bot can understand that “one day from now” and “tomorrow” are the same thing.

Taking it to the next level, you can build bots with custom logic that guide users through a conversation. If done well, the users may not even realize at first that they aren’t interacting with a person.

Related Article: Chatbots Belong in the Workplace (Provided They’re Well Designed)

The Available Bots in Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams has the most obvious display of artificial intelligence, and it is used throughout Office 365. Your first introduction to AI in Teams would likely have been the T-Bot and the “Who” bot. T-Bot is a digital assistant designed to teach you how to use Microsoft Teams. It’s a conversational tool that allows you to ask questions with natural language. In the example below, you can see how a user asks T-Bot a question about video calls in Teams. You may notice that the user asks, “How do I start a video chat” and T-Bot was able to understand that it needed to respond with the answer to the question “How do I make or receive a video call in Teams?”

T-bot

The Who bot helps users to search for people. When you begin the chat with the Who bot, you’ll be greeted with a brief set of examples of questions that you can ask.

who bot

One way you can search for people is by the skills listed in their profiles. In this example, Who will return a list of people with SharePoint experience.

who bot sharepoint

These were just two of the bots available in Teams. There are others you can explore, and you can also create bots tailored to meet your needs.

Related Article: Microsoft Teams: The Good, The Bad, The ‘Is it Ready?’

Taking AI to the Next Level

Office 365 is continually evolving, and that evolution includes advances in AI and machine learning. Behind the scenes, Office 365 leverages the Microsoft Graph to aggregate content and information that is relevant to specific users based on their interactions. The Microsoft Graph is a single service that can be used to access and manage information across many of the apps made available in Office 365. This makes it possible to tailor the services to do things that streamline your unique business processes.

I recently created a bot that leverages the Microsoft Graph and Azure service. I designed the bot to improve the process of making help desk requests and triaging those requests. Too often, employees turn to their colleagues to ask what the help desk’s email address is or to find out who would be able to fix a particular problem. Once the help desk receives the request, there’s yet another process where someone figures out who the request should go to.

With the bot, users can be guided through a conversation about their problem. The bot is based on the Microsoft Graph, so it can connect to Outlook to email the appropriate people based on the user’s responses and even create tasks in Microsoft Planner that are assigned to the technicians.

anabot3

If you think about simple tasks like searching for product information, you can begin to design innovative solutions for your organization with the help of bots. They’re fairly simple and lightweight, and by using platforms like the Microsoft Bot Framework, you can incorporate bots into other apps like Teams, Facebook, Slack and more.

Related Article: The AI-Based Intelligent Workplace Is Closer Than You Think

Moving Beyond Language Understanding

The examples above focused on chatbots and their ability to parse natural language to properly respond to input. This is possibly the most straightforward way to start, because it’s easy to understand and it simplifies the solution-envisioning process.

However, AI is capable of much more. Artificial intelligence tools range from speech-recognition systems like Cortana, Siri and Alexa to text analyzers that can determine the tone of your text and image recognition systems that can identify people and objects and even detect a person’s emotions. Putting AI to work in your workplace can unlock many possibilities for automation, especially those small tasks that add up and rob employees of their time and productivity.

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