by Hannah Williams

How UK CIOs are using chatbots

May 29, 20197 mins
Collaboration SoftwareMobile AppsSoftware Development

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Credit: Illus_man/Shutterstock

Staffordshire University Director of Digital Services Andrew Proctor

Andrew Proctor, Director of Digital Services at Staffordshire University, has rolled out an AI-powered bot called Beacon that supports students through a phone-based app.

Beacon will serve a number of purposes: providing individual students with the information they need, improving retention rates by suggesting societies for students to join and events to attend, and acting as an interactive pocket planner that offers deadline reminders, travel updates and study suggestions.

The university is also developing predictive analytics for the app that will assess a student’s level of engagement through their logins to the university systems and time spent on their learning materials. This will be used to to identify students at risk of failing or dropping out and then notifying tutors or giving students motivational nudges designed to improve their performance.

“Beacon is really there to ensure that students who have Beacon on their mobile phone essentially have the university in that pocket wherever they are,” says Proctor.

Waltham Forest Council CIO and CDO Paul Neville

Waltham Forest Council CIO and CDO Paul Neville

Paul Neville, the CIO and CDO of Waltham Forest Council, has launched Facebook and Twitter bots to improve communication with citizens in the borough. Residents can use them to interact with five council services, the most popular of which is for reporting fly tipping, with Neville saying that rubbish disposed in the neighbourhood is one of the sorest pain points for residents.The Twitter bot is an add-on called WF-townwalks, while the Facebook bot is accessible through the Messenger app via the council’s Facebook page.

Residents take a picture of the mess, and then either geolocate it if they’re at the site, or enter the address manual address manually if they’re not. They then answer five questions, a big reduction on the 20 they had to complete when submitting the form submitted on the council’s website. To ensure that someone clears up the mess, contractors are given tablets that alert them when fly tipping is reported.

“When they’ve done the job, they just click a button on their tablet, which basically sends the information back through to our back-office system, which then pushes the information back to the customer,” says Neville.

Orbis CIO Matthew Scott

Orbis CIO Matthew Scott

Orbis CIO Matthew Scott has been implementing chatbots to automate HR processes and online FAQs at the shared services partnership between Brighton and Hove City Council, East Sussex County Council, and Surrey County Council. The deployment is being developed alongside an RPA capability in a recently established robotics lab.

“To be honest we started off fairly experimental, and what we were looking at doing is applying the robotics to fairly low-level task automation and clear process backlogs,” he says.

“That was mainly within the back office, but we’ve actually just started scaling it corporately to support our wider transformation plan. So the use of RPA has been the priority in the last 12 months and alongside that, we plan to develop a server-based chatbot capability.”

Vodafone Head of IT Delivery Ajit Dhaliwal

Vodafone is using chatbot technology to digitise customer experience. In 2018, the telecommunications firm began connecting its systems to third-party products through APIs, which were introduced by Head of IT Delivery Ajit Dhaliwal.

Chatbots and digital assistants were two of the main technologies that gained the most traction, so Vodafone decided to launch its own chatbot on IBM Watson.

The chatbot, named TOBi, was the first one launched by a UK mobile provider. It was designed initially to respond to customer queries via Vodafone’s online web chat service, and has since progressed to offer account information and advice on price plans.

“The use of the chatbot has far exceeded our expectations in terms of customer advocacy but also in terms of sales conversions,” says Dhaliwal. “We were very honest with customers to tell them that they were talking to a robot and not trying to hide the fact that it was a digitised journey, but customers loved it. They love the ease of simplicity,” he adds.

According to Dhaliwal, TOBi provides double the conversion rate of the standard Vodafone website.

Allied Irish Bank CIO Tim Hynes

Allied Irish Bank (AIB) CIO Tim Hynes has begun adopting artificial intelligence and chatbots for customer support and the identification of tax deduction errors.

AIB started working on using chatbots in its HR systems and call centers in 2018. This was to streamline the communication between employees and customers.

Adopted in conjunction with humans, the chatbots are used to intervene when staff require further information on subjects like the new interest rate on a particular loan.

The chatbot is also able to monitor customers’ financial stability and the weather in their area, helping with those that may struggle to pay the mortgage following any damage.

“By using AI what they’re able to do is get ahead of it,” said Hynes. “They don’t have to allocate capital, they don’t have to engage these expensive processes, they don’t annoy the customer, and frankly what they do is enhance the brand, because the customer says ‘hey, if I’m having a problem, this bank is on my side’.”

N Brown CTO Tim Price

Tim Price, CTO at UK retailer N Brown, oversaw a series of innovations in 2017 that included new chatbots.

“One example is the mobile app. Last year, amazingly for a retailer we still did’’t have a mobile app, because we thought our mobile web experience was good enough,” Price said.

“The innovation took eight weeks, which I think is amazing for a mobile app and it was built with none of the features of the website,” he added.

Part of this transformation saw the adoption of chatbots, used to respond to customers quickly and effectively.

“My vision here is, while our customers are loading the dishwasher at home they could ‘Alexa’ what’s in their basket,” he said. “Take it to the next step with a bit of AI integration and we are doing this. You can start to learn what you like, your preferences, what sizes you’ve returned, what sizes you keep and what fits well. Therefore, through Alexa we recommend clothes without you seeing them,” he added.

Aviva International CIO Fin Goulding

Aviva International CIO Fin Goulding led the company on a journey to digital and cultural transformation as a way to tackle complex challenges.

The CIO adopted AI, IoT and other emerging technologies to track changes in 2018 and sees the intersection of the technologies as a way to deliver the best innovation across the insurance firm.

“So it’s the Internet of Things, AI, natural language processing – all these things combined that will give you that insight, not on their own. At the moment they are on their own, people are not actually pulling this stuff together cohesively,” Goulding said.

With interest in ‘Alexa-type technology’ Goulding, who owns both an Amazon Alexa and the Google Home, believes that the rise of virtual assistants and chatbots will eventually lead to the death of the internet browser.