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Many of us are comfortable talking to conversational chat bots for reminders, the latest weather or news, directions to the closest restaurant, and other daily tasks. Now AI-powered digital assistants are poised to make workplace processes just as shockingly easy.

During the next three years, IDC predicts that seven of the top ten cognitive/AI use cases will be industry-focused, totaling 85 percent of priority investments. Peter Weigt, Head of Innovation Center Silicon Valley at SAP, sees this growth as a logical progression in the relationship between people and computers.

“We all like to talk, but no one likes talking to machines. Humans have always had to learn how machines worked, learning programming languages to interact with computers and tell them explicitly what to do. It should be the other way around. We should be able to tell through our human voice in natural conversations what machines should do for us,” said Peter Weigt, Head of Innovation Center Silicon Valley at SAP.

Weigt proved his point at the recent SAPPHIRE NOW & ASUG Conference, where he demonstrated how conversational apps can revolutionize the workplace.

Lucy streamlines procurement

Struggling with time-consuming, disconnected procurement processes, a global healthcare company decided to host a hackathon competition, challenging vendors to develop a solution that would reduce the time it took to find the right supplier partner from hours to minutes. The answer was a chatbot “assistant” named Lucy, who delivered the kind of buying experience consumers cherish on their favorite shopping sites.

From the start, it was abundantly clear how easy this conversation was going to be with a clean user interface that mimicked the look and feel of many social business platforms. Then Lucy’s natural and genuinely helpful conversation kicked in. After someone selected from specific procurement-related actions, Lucy took it from there. When asked if a supplier was paid, Lucy immediately found all the related purchase orders, highlighted the error and fixed it in seconds.

“Machine learning can easily jump in to make corrections because the system understands a large database of words, and particularly something that is not just common knowledge, but also enterprise words in context,” said Weigt.

When asked about ordering chairs, Lucy responded by asking what kind of chairs were wanted and how much someone wanted to spend. When asked why price mattered, Lucy pulled up relevant videos explaining the company’s purchasing policies. Once the budget range was specified, Lucy instantly streamlined the procurement process by providing the contact details of the person responsible for ordering the chairs, and the necessary next steps.

Bots raise the level of business conversation

Weigt chalked up the fast emergence of chat bots like SAP Copilot in the workplace to rising levels of computing power and usage of message apps, along with the increasing ability of machines to understand and act.

“The bot gives you the right information at the right time. You don’t have to search in complex databases, ask colleagues or browse the internet,” said Weigt. “We have the language data. Businesses can store huge amounts of data and with growing infrastructures, can make it more widely available to enable conversational applications.”

Unlike some experts, Weigt was candid about what AI can and cannot do in the business. “In AI today, you won’t find a superhuman understanding that can do everything in your enterprise system covering autonomous personalization based on patterns, context and history and proactively providing you all information you need. This is what we’re aspiring to and where we are headed, starting with enterprise bots.”

Over time, Weigt expects machine learning tools like chat bots will continuously expand the value they provide to the business, making all connected enterprise systems intelligent and conversational. That’s one shocking truth certain to delight many employees and the customers they serve.

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