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Double your brain power

The SD Worx Digital Assistant could be the ‘second brain’ you’ve been waiting for. James Goulding reports

Kim Van Loo SD-Worx
Kim Van Loo SD-Worx

Artificial Intelligence was a key theme at the SD Worx European Conference for users of the company’s HR and payroll solutions, held in London on February 6.

The topic featured prominently in a round table discussion on The Future of Collaboration, with both Marc Teerlink, Global Vice President of SAP Leonardo, and Dr Nicola Millard of Customers Insight and Futures at BT Global Services telling delegates to ignore the scare stories and learn to love AI.

Marc Teerlink said: “Why be afraid of AI? Nobody was afraid of sharks until Spielberg made Jaws?”

More plausibly, he pointed out that no business wants a highly paid knowledge worker to spend 60% of their time doing repetitive tasks. The benefit of AI, he suggested, is that it allows an employer (and employees) to offload ‘mind-numbing’ tasks to a machine.

Dr Nicola Millard said that the term Artificial Intelligence itself was unhelpful and that she preferred to think of AI as “augmented intelligence designed to do the dull, the dirty and the dangerous – the stuff that we don’t want to do”.

A better experience

One example of an AI solution that really does ‘augment’ the user experience is the SD Worx Digital Assistant, currently being piloted internally and with key SD Worx customers.

Kim Van Loo, customer experience catalyst at SD Worx, describes it as a ‘second brain’ for office workers that, like a personal assistant, will automatically take care of mundane admin-related tasks.

“When you are sick, for instance, you have to do a lot of stuff; you have to take a day off; you have to inform your team; you have to inform your manager; you might have to free up your agenda and reschedule meetings; you have to set up ‘out of office’ on your email. Stuff like that. Every CEO has a second brain, a personal assistant, to help them do this. With Digital Assistant, our aim is to create a personal assistant for every employee,” he said.

Other everyday tasks the digital assistant could help streamline and simplify include managing expenses, making travel arrangements and booking meeting rooms.

What’s so refreshing about the SD Worx Digital Assistant is that all these tasks can be done through the same app, saving users from having to switch between a number of different systems. It also anticipates every aspect of a process, guiding the user through to a successful completion, with no element forgotten or left out, just as a personal assistant would.

Smartphone app
In its current form, the Digital Assistant exists as a smartphone app linked to the SD Worx self-service HR system, which enterprise and mid-size customers already use to book a day off, submit expenses etc..

User interaction is currently based on touch (the app has a number of quick channels to do things like request a holiday or snap a receipt) and a chatbot that uses natural language processing (NLP) for intuitive operation.

“Whether you say ‘I want to take a day off’ or ‘take some leave’ or ‘book a holiday’, the digital assistant understands what data it needs to provide and responds with something like ‘It’s nice you want to take a day off; you have 18 days holiday left’. It gets your personal data from the back-end and says these are the next steps you can take and guides you through the process,” Van Loo explained.

The app also has an area for the display of HR and corporate announcements.

Further integration
The next stage, says Van Loo, is to add other ways for users to interact with the app, e.g. through applications like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp and voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

“The app is merely the first channel. The digital assistant will also have a conversational interface so that you can interact with the digital assistant wherever you are. For example, you could say to Google Home ‘Get me the SD Worx Assistant’ and it would reply ‘Here’s the SD Worx Assistant, what can I do for you?’; ‘I’d like to take Thursday off’; ‘OK, I see you have these meetings on that day. Shall I cancel them?’”

Van Loo also plans to link the Digital Assistant to additional services. One that he is already working on is the purchasing of train tickets.

“We want to capture the events in people’s working day and bring value to them, so we are working with third parties to allow users to buy a train ticket and have it imported directly into their expenses notes. They don’t have to get a receipt afterwards but can do everything directly in an end-to-end digital way,” he said.

In the future, SD Worx Digital Assistant could even be used to manage events in users’ personal lives, such as school pick up arrangements. And, with plans to make it available to users of other HR systems, soon everyone could benefit from a second brain.

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