By Steve Cox, Group Vice President, Oracle ERP EPM Product Marketing
How many times have you visited a company’s web site, only to be greeted by a small pop-up window asking, “How can I help?”
Such a greeting is becoming more and more common. Often, it’s our first interaction with an organization, and can influence how we perceive their customer service. But that helpful greeting is rarely given by a human being. It’s nearly always a chatbot.
So we’re on the same page: chatbots are text-based (we’re counting emojis as text) and designed to work within a single-purpose application (like Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or a web site). There are also virtual assistants (like Amazon’s Alexa), which are voice-activated and generally connect to a mobile device.
We’ve been so comfortable with the QWERTY (or AZERTI) keyboard that we’ve maybe forgotten that they were designed to slow humans down (because we type too fast). Bots can make it easier for us to interact with software—to move us into the fast lane when it comes to transaction processing or decision-making.
Today, companies like Oracle are embedding voice bots into business software, to help with tasks like recommending suppliers, filing expense reports—even advising which invoices to pay first. We don’t have to double-click or tap anymore; we ask a question and get an immediate answer.
Soon you’re going to see bots help your organization speed period close, manage budgets, and perform financial forecasting. You’ll use these intelligent assistants to eliminate redundancy in work previously performed by people, liberating your team to use their knowledge and experience to provide insights and enable better decisions across the entire business. Imagine, for example, being able to ask, “What is customer X’s credit status?” and receiving a response instantaneously.
Or, think about when your company makes a new hire; that person will need a laptop. In the near future, all they’ll have to do is say, “I need a laptop.” The voice bot will check the employee's profile and respond with something like, “Employees performing your job function generally choose this laptop.”
The bot might next suggest another accessory or two needed for the laptop, and the new hire will say, “Great, let me purchase the laptop and the two accessories you recommend.” The transaction will complete automatically, the bot will generate a purchase order, manage any approvals needed, and advise the new employee of the laptop’s arrival date. A function that could consume hours will take just a few minutes.
In finance departments, bots can perform similar functions to automate repetitive processes that consume employee hours—time that could be better spent on higher-level tasks such as faster decision-making and architecting a new financial strategy.
Bots will be able to provide an immediate and informed answer to a question like, “How much have we spent on travel and expenses this year?” Then, a manager can instantly determine if there is room in the budget to send employees to an overseas conference.
At Oracle, we are embedding intelligent bots into our products and applications. At this year’s Oracle OpenWorld, we introduced an array of new AI updates to our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Cloud and Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) Cloud offerings—including a bot that serves as an expense reporting assistant and intelligent algorithms that recommend suppliers and vendor-specific discounts. We’re also building bots into Oracle Project Portfolio Management (PPM) Cloud for more efficient task assignment and tracking.
It wasn’t that long ago that getting insights from financial data was a massive task requiring hours, if not days, of a financial analyst’s time. With intelligent chatbots and voice bots, it will be possible to get those insights from real-time financial data without information overload.
We expect that bots will soon be able to automate the entire financial close, only asking a human to step in when an exception arises. Increasingly, finance employees will be freed from performing rote tasks, and will be able to spend their time on truly challenging and critical work.
This isn’t just good for the business in terms of having more minds working on long-term financial strategy; it’s also good for keeping employees engaged, challenged, and enthusiastic at work. Intelligent bots will be a critical part of unleashing the power of people in the organization to do amazing things.