Siri for Your Intranet

By Adam Wasserman – Siri and Google Now may be making its way onto smartphones but these consumer-grade answer-bot technologies have the power to revolutionize the intranet experience as well.

Siri and Google Now are making their way into how we engage with technology. We no longer expect to type in a search query to find a results page, but are instead eager to gain an immediate answer to a specific question through the use of answer-bots. In Prescient’s development lab, we are experimenting with just how to evolve this Siri-like consumer-grade technology to the enterprise intranet.

Why should intranet managers care?

One of the main reasons to explore an intranet is to find a piece of content. Search is a key driver of traffic on the intranet (as long as users find it useful). ROI benefits are derived if users can quickly and easily find what they are looking for on the site. This is where the answer-bot comes into play. By providing users with key information quickly, users will save time and in turn become more efficient and derive a larger ROI from their intranet.

What would it do?

The answer-bot works best if you understand your users and their specific needs. Unless your company has the resources of Apple or Google, we may need to keep the scope of the answer-bot limited, while still being useful to the end-user to accomplish specific use-cases. Remember, one can always build out new features along a phased approach to make this tool more useful over time.

Some key examples could be:

Query the employee directory to find a user's information

  • What is Sue Davis’s phone number?
  • Who are the District Mangers in NYC?
  •  How long has George Brown been at this company?

Find the status on a project

  • What is the status of Project X?
  • What projects is Sue Davis currently working on?

Find a policy

  • Show me the policy on Intranet Guidelines.
  • What Policies are available from HR?

Find a tool

  • What tool do I use for video conferencing?
  • What is the link for Skype?

Hopefully these examples start to give you a better sense of the power of this new technology and how with a little thought, this could be far more powerful than the traditional search tool.

How we use our answer-bot

Bob, Prescient’s affectionately named answer-bot, has been a core component of our intranet for the past six months. This tool has been very much in development during that time, but Bob is slowly becoming a more dominant presence within our intranet.

Prescient established Bob by first using a chat-bot infrastructure that has stock answers and building onto that chassis other answer-types including: programed answers, learned answers, and programed answer cases. Below are examples of each type of output from Bob.

Stock answers provide personality for Bob and can be expanded to answer many quick facts.

  • Question: “Can you dance”
  • Output: “No I do not have a body yet”

Programmed answers provide responses to common questions.

  • Question: “Who is Toby Ward”
  • Output: “Toby Ward, President & CEO. The founder and CEO of Prescient Digital Media, Toby is an internationally recognized and acclaimed expert in the areas of communications…”

Learned answers are when Bob finds information itself on the intranet and presents that to the user without any direct programming by a user.

  • Question: “What is on March the 6th?”
  • Output: “Intranet Global Forum, Los Angeles”

Programmed answer cases address specific types of information that users commonly need to access. Bob needs to first recognize the specific question parameters, search for the responses in the appropriate database, then surface the appropriate response – all within seconds. Although, this response-type can be very involving, it is the most effective answer-type for an answer-bot.

  • Question: “What is Adam’s phone number?”
  • Output: “Adam Wasserman’s phone number is 416-926-8800 x 211 and his e-mail is”

  • Question: “What is the status on client X?”

  • Output: “Client X is 85% complete. The Assessment phase is complete. The Planning phase has 4/7 deliverables left including Design, Design Guidelines and Intranet Blueprint”

  • Question: “How many clients has Prescient had in Health Care?”
  • Output: “Prescient has had 14 clients in health care”

  • Question: “When is the next webinar?”
  • Output: “The next webinar is on February 19, 2014 at 12:30 PM. The topic is Winning Funding for an Intranet Redesign”


Answer-bot technology has the potential to revolutionize the answer-seeking behavior of an intranet. When users grow comfortable with this technology, and the system becomes sufficiently advanced, users can bypass much of the general information architecture and search functionality within an intranet.

This technology also has the power to completely revolutionize the mobile interface of future sites. Imagine a mobile view that is just a mechanism to type or speak your question directly to the answer-bot instead of (or in addition to) navigating a traditional mobile site.

Keep an eye on this trend and I think you will find that as intranet managers begin to see the value proposition of this approach, intranets will forever change.