If you’ve ever worked in a big company, you carry the scars of processes and workflows. Even in the most advanced companies, most processes are not what I would consider delightful. When presenting about UX, I ask the audience “Who here likes to do their expense reports?” — I get laughter, but no one raises their hands.
Processes like expense reporting should be delightful — you paid for something and now the company pays you back! Magic! And it’s the same for many other processes — from vacation requests to promotion approvals, they should all be delightful … and yet most of them suck. In this article we will discuss why these processes are a pain, and the great opportunity that system integrators, IT departments, and corporate engineers have to disrupt these workflows and create a truly delightful experience with bots and conversational interfaces.
What are the pain points of business workflows?
Workflows are a realization of our work processes, everything from triaging bugs, assigning tasks, and requesting vacation approvals, all the way to automating marketing processes.
If we analyze most of the workflows that haunt us at night, we find a set of common failures:
- Email-initiated but not terminated. You get an email to start a process, such as approving an expense, but you cannot finish the process in the email — you need to click on a link in the email and go to the dedicated system to finish the process.
- Authentication hell. How many times do you start a process, to then get asked to log in to yet another service that has conveniently forgotten you?
- No mobile support. You get an email on your phone, click on a link, and find out that the legacy system you are accessing does not support your mobile phone.
- Reply all nightmare. You see an alert or a report sent by email, with 56 “reply all” addresses.
- Slowness. You click on a link and wait forever for the legacy system to come up.
- Poor access control. You click on a link and find out you do not have permissions to perform the operations.
- Cumbersome UX. You are bombarded with tons of useless menus, irrelevant buttons, sluggish dropdowns, long navigation paths, and confusing checkboxes.
- Mundane tasks. Repeatable, boring, low-value tasks — make sure that every expense has a receipt, make sure that that a vendor filled out all the entries correctly in the invoice, blah blah blah.
- Human roadblocking. “Waiting for approval from XYZ” or “Waiting on XZY to follow up.”
These are just a sample of most people’s everyday work life — no wonder people do not want to fill their vacation approval forms. I am sure the developers who built our traditional business workflows were professionals and wanted to create productive tools. They just built them 20 years ago, when web and emails were innovative concepts. Well, 20 years have passed, and now workers expect more.
What if we rethink workflows?
Workflows are critical for the productive operations of most businesses, and companies are spending billions of dollars to procure and maintain line-of-business systems. This brings us to the big opportunity — what if we rethink how to build these office workflows? What if we use messaging apps to make them accessible, transparent, and actionable? Use conversational interfaces to make these contextual and simple? Use AI to do most of the boring heavy lifting?
Let’s explore a few examples of workflows that are waiting for distribution:
1. Expense systems
I think it would be great if you could submit your expenses by sending your receipts in a chat with your expense assistant, and having it read the receipts and submit the expense on your behalf. It would also be productive if finance or your boss could approve the expenses with a click of a button inside your messaging app.
2. Recruiting and hiring
It would be helpful for a system to automatically coordinate candidate interview scheduling and have interviewers submit their feedback through a simple chat interface.
3. Business intelligence
No more reports in emails that are never read — let’s think about intelligence reports that go in a channel and promote transparency and accountability. Here is a possible way we can expose reports inside our messaging apps (designed in 5 minutes using Walkie):
4. HR/People ops
No more navigating through endless pages of internal HR portals to figure out your benefits — let’s think about a benefits bots that you can simply ask and get the answer to your questions:
5. Customer relationship management
Think about augmenting a sales conversation with data from your CRM system, rather than context switching between systems. This could be done by building your own internal integration to your CRM, installing the Salesforce Slack App, or by installing a bot like Troops.
6. Employee onboarding and training
Think of a virtual assistant that helps new employees on-board and get trained, customizable and contextual to the employee role and seniority:
7. Company-specific workflows
Every company has a lot of custom workflows they use every day, from document approvals to help requests and reports. We will see more and more of these workflows, traditionally implemented with spreadsheets and visual basic, move to a new and more user-friendly experience.
We have many internal workflows inside Slack. Up until last week, it was harder to build internal workflows with buttons and other rich interactions. We consolidated the way to build on Slack, launching a unified way to build internal integrations and and apps.
How will this disruption unfold?
So who will be the big winners in this technological revolution? There are several ways these disruptions could happen. We are starting to see traditional service providers innovate in their space — an example of that is SAP, which announced new chatbots for its Concur expense tracker and SuccessFactor HR software last month. We already see startups like Troops, Growbot, StatBot, and Zoom.ai disrupting traditional enterprise software industries.
Internal IT departments and corporate engineers will start innovating and implementing internal workflows with this interface. Creating delightful and productive workflows within their organizations. Moving legacy process from Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, and VB scripts into powerful, fast, and contextual workflows that happen in messaging.
I believe that this will change the way business process are implemented across small, medium, and large businesses. A few weeks ago we made it a lot simpler for IT department to create these workflows by consolidating everything into apps.
The examples I have outlined are only a few workflows that come to mind, but most of them represent multibillion dollar industries. It’s not a matter of if these workflows are going to be disrupted — it is only a matter of time.
Amir Shevat is head of developer relations at Slack.