National Australia Bank’s (NAB’s) IT service desk regularly receives a high volume of support requests from a workforce of more than 35,000 employees.
A review in 2021 uncovered several inconsistencies and inefficiencies in how the tech support team handled these requests, according to the bank’s Head of Technology for Workplace Support Services, Raj Ghuliani.
“A lot of things that our colleagues were asking – mostly our customer-facing colleagues – they could find the answers for those questions themselves,” he explains. “We learned that, at the very least, the top 10 issues that impacted all of our colleagues at NAB could be self-serviced.”
The review also found that staff members often had to call customers back because they couldn’t find answers to their questions quickly enough. In addition, the answers customer-facing staff members received from colleagues weren’t always accurate.
A seamless and collaborative partnership
NAB decided to build a chatbot that would serve as a single source of truth in answering employees’ IT questions. After comparing four chatbot services, the bank selected Microsoft’s Azure Cognitive Services and Bot Framework.
“We looked at the user interface and user authentication, the integrations that were required, usability and even the scalability that we wanted to achieve at NAB,” Ghuliani says. “The key criteria on top of that were the security of our data and for our colleagues, and then any additional considerations from a cost perspective.
“We deep dived into all of this and learned that if we had used other bots, we would’ve had to do a lot more work and spend a lot more time and money compared to what we had to do with Microsoft because it was already part of our cloud journey.”
NAB signed a five-year multicloud partnership with Microsoft in 2020 to boost its resilience, speed and innovation. The bank also uses Microsoft 365 services, including Microsoft Teams, to enhance productivity and collaboration across its workforce.
Working closely with Microsoft engineers and architects, NAB developed and deployed a master chatbot for employees. Staff members can access the NAB Bot using the Teams app on their computers or mobile phones. The bot is also available as a web interface with access restricted to NAB employees.
Integration with ServiceNow means the NAB Bot can leverage a knowledge repository of employees’ most frequently asked questions. It also enables the bank to easily transfer employees to a live chat with its 24/7 support team.
However, it’s the approach to security that makes this chatbot unique. Through the project, NAB became one of the few large enterprises in the world to deploy Azure Cognitive Services using private endpoints. These are private IP addresses that are only accessible within a specific virtual network and subnet.
“It was a remarkable achievement [moving from public to private endpoints] because it was new territory for all of us, including the Microsoft engineers that we were allocated,” says Ghuliani. “But that journey became a lot easier and more seamless because of the workshops and the collaboration we had.
“Microsoft’s engineers were very transparent and open to share their knowledge with us, and that helped us get to where we are today.”
Since the NAB Bot went live in November 2021, employees have used it more than 53,000 times and given it an average employee rating of 4½ out of five.
“From a usage and performance perspective, the chatbot has certainly exceeded our expectations,” says Ghuliani. “What’s really pleasing to see is that more than 50 per cent of all interactions with the NAB Bot have been from our customer-facing colleagues, because we want to make a difference for our customers.”
Early success guides NAB’s broader chatbot strategy
NAB plans to expand the use of self-service chatbots to other areas of the business including human resources and legal. To achieve this, the bank is working with Microsoft to build low-code chatbots using Power Virtual Agents that offer enhanced business agility.
Ghuliani says the goal is to start each employee support query (IT or non IT related) with a chatbot that would provide the correct answer or redirect the session to the best support channel for that query.
NAB is also working on enhancing the capability of the NAB Bot so that it can proactively resolve IT issues for employees.
“At the moment, the bot is only doing things when you engage it and ask something,” says Ghuliani.
“For example, there might be certain errors on a colleague’s laptop happening in the background and they might not have noticed the symptoms. What the bot could do is have constant access to those error logs, and it could be trained to pick up certain types of errors, identify them and learn that it’s an incident that it can automatically create.
“As part of that incident creation, we would have a scripted solution that the bot could automatically implement in the background. Then as a pop-up message, it will say, ‘Hey, we noticed there was an issue. This is the ticket number. We’ve implemented the solution. This is just for reference.’ That is our vision for the future.”
To achieve its vision, NAB is working with Microsoft on a proof of concept to explore the use of artificial intelligence and robots to automate some support scenarios. More details will be announced soon.