Liberty IT on AI and the ‘humanising technology’ making life that little bit easier

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  • A local project to build a chatbot has spawned a major software spin-out and is set to transform internal communications in one of the world’s largest insurance companies.

    Liberty IT, which delivers software applications and websites for Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, employs around 520 people across its Belfast and Dublin sites.  

    In March, two members of the Belfast site’s Applied Innovation team - Gill Armstrong and Gillian McCann – worked to update internal comms tools and develop a help desk chatbot using Amazon Lex infrastructure.

    Within six weeks they had a working prototype, and its latest iteration has been rolled out to 3,000 Liberty Mutual personnel. Plans are in place to extend the service next year to the group’s 50,000 personnel and 800 office locations around the globe.

    “Our vision was to create a personal assistant and aggregate workflows, HR, admin and central IT functions into one place and using a much more natural way of interacting,” says Gill.

    The team have now put the chatbot into production and ramped up the functionality.

    “Many of the questions it was being asked were common to lots of companies, so we thought it would be great to take it externally and provide it as SaaS solution,” says Gill.

    The result is a product geared for customers in medium to large enterprises which entered the market as Workgrid Assistant in October.  It is the initial product of Workgrid Software, LLC - a wholly-owned company that creates and sells software solutions that are purpose-built for an enterprise—by an enterprise.  The Workgrid Assistant is a digital assistant built to simplify the work day by integrating with the common systems and tools found in the workplace and is easily customizable, making it one of the most ready-to-use, flexible employee-enablement platforms on the market to date.

    The Workgrid Assistant’s modern interface and functionality was designed specifically to solve for the loss of productivity and engagement due to the complexity of the employee experience in a large enterprise—but applicable to companies of all sizes.  

    “There's a lot of very powerful tools for management, including bringing across approval systems into one place. But it’s primarily employee-focused, so it focuses on helpdesk support and internal policies. It's just like having a personal assistant sitting right beside you.”

    Workgrid is powered by Amazon Lex, a conversational engine designed for application interfaces. This provides the same intuitive, deep learning as Alexa (which will be familiar to anyone who owns an Amazon Echo).  

    “We're pretty excited about the work that we've been doing here. There’s so many directions you can go with artificial intelligence. There are so many services now being opened up by Amazon and Microsoft that really democratise the technology,” says Gill.

    According to Gill - who has worked as a software developer with Liberty IT for more than 13 years - slang is an issue for chatbots but “we’re constantly looking at is how people are interacting with the bot and can adjust the training model to better understand people from different offices in different countries”.

    But misunderstandings will occur - which is normal in all aspects of life.

    “The tricky thing about natural language understanding is that humans aren't always very good at understanding natural language either,” says Gillian.

    “Like people, there can be subtleties in language - like sarcasm - that the bot won’t get. In questions and answers that's okay, but in a conversational flow computers will still struggle with that,” she says.

    The main thing, she says, is that “we’re humanising technology”.

    ”It used to be that the human would learn how the computer works. But now the computer is learning how we work, so life’s getting much easier for users and that's really exciting,” says Gill.

    To find out more about conversational technology and how to develop chatbots, view Gill and Gillian’s presentation from last month’s AWS re:Invent via this link.

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