Admittedly, just a few years ago conversations with a chatbot didn´t go much further than ´Hello, can I help you?´ and ´Sorry, I didn´t understand that´. But as chatbots are becoming smarter and increasingly communicating like human beings, they’re offering more and more advantages. Frederick Bousson is a big fan, and within Ordina he has emerged as an expert in new technology. What´s his vision of innovation? And how do chatbots fit into the picture?
Frederick Bousson became acquainted with Ordina as a student. In the spring of 2008 he cycled every day to our former offices in Merelbeke for his traineeship, which he enjoyed a great deal. So well, in fact, that he politely declined a job offer from a big 4 company to stay on permanently. “Ordina is smaller scale and more personal. That´s just a lot nicer, while also offering many more possibilities”, Frederick explains.
Trainee becomes Java consultant
Already during his traineeship Frederick discovered that Ordina gives its people the freedom to assume responsibility, experiment and learn. “For my traineeship project I chose a topic that was well beyond my comfort zone: doing research into the possibilities offered by Alfresco, which at that time was a brand-new CMS system. I was given carte blanche, and the final result was positively received.” The traineeship was the beginning of a long Ordina career: after six intensive weeks of training during the Ordina summer school – the current Young Professional Program – Frederick went to work at JWorks, our Java team.
Even before IT became mainstream
“I love to tinker with gadgets,” Frederick notes about himself in his CV. Trying out new technology is a red thread that runs through his whole career at Ordina. He started out as a Java developer and after a couple of years turned to mobile development. Later he evolved together with the changing market and immersed himself in IoT. At Ordina’s customer Proximus he got a chance to put his theoretical knowledge of IoT into practice.
“I fell under the spell of IoT long before it became mainstream”, Frederick says. “The challenge at Proximus also felt like pioneering work: IoT was still in its infancy, and in any case it´s very complex, because it combines hardware and software. Moreover, it entails a completely new way of working, as a result of which it isn´t easy to convince users of the added value.”
Trying out new technology is a red thread running through my whole career at Ordina.
Innovation with impact
In the meantime, Frederick looks back with pride at projects where IoT truly delivers benefits, such as at Proximus and Bombardier. He emphasises the importance of this added value: “Technology fascinates me, but technology purely for the sake of technology is for me a hobby. In a professional environment, technology – or actually, innovation – has to have an impact: the customer must derive some genuine advantage from it. At Ordina, when we get to know a new technology, we first study what context we can apply it in. If we decide to include this technology in our offer, then we implement it only if it has some utility for a customer. We’ll never just integrate the very latest technology simply in order to have ´the latest thing´.”
In a professional environment, technology – or actually, innovation – has to have an impact: it must offer the customer added value.
A user-friendly interface
And that´s the way it went with AI and chatbots as well. “Naturally I´m interested in artificial intelligence. But AI is incredibly complex, so at Ordina we regularly opt for applied AI: we work with building blocks that already contain AI algorithms, such as chatbots.”
Frederick took a training course at Chatlayer.ai, a Belgian company that developed a platform for building chatbots. “I compared a lot chatbots and platforms, and the platform of Chatlayer.ai was the best of the bunch: it’s exceptionally mature, and the user interface is excellent. That’s crucial. A chatbot has to become a friend of the users, otherwise they´ll simply ignore it and go back to communicating in the traditional way. Moreover, the platform includes excellent analytical functionalities that progressively improve the conversations the more it´s used.” Partly on Frederick´s recommendation, Ordina and Chatlayer.ai recently formed a partnership: Ordina will set up the platform at customers and integrate it with existing business applications.
Chatlayer’s platform is exceptionally mature and assures an excellent user interface. A chatbot has to become a friend of the users, otherwise they´ll simply ignore it.
Chatbot for the HR department
The Ordina HR team is currently experimenting with a chatbot that Frederick and his colleagues built and integrated. Frederick explains: “Every day the people responsible for our fleet – 800 vehicles – have to deal with a huge number of questions like ‘I lost my fuel card’, ‘I can´t remember the code for my fuel card’, ‘How am I supposed to refuel with a replacement car?’ and so on”. On the basis of a user survey, we mapped out these repetitive questions and the possible answers and developed a chatbot which we are now testing in small groups. On the basis of the feedback we’ll be refining the system in the coming months, so that both the HR staff and our consultants can benefit from it.”
The fleet story is only one example. There´s also a pitch running for a government institution to intelligently manage queues for emergency services via a chatbot. “Our greatest advantages for this kind of project? That would be the platform of Chatlayer.ai, our own expertise and certainly also our multidisciplinary teams”, says Frederick. “The UX researchers of Clockwork, for example, can demonstrate the added value of such a chatbot via a value discovery process. By optimising the user experience, they help keep the solution as accessible as possible. For setting up and integrating the chatbot we have technical experts in house, and the RPA team is just a short step away.”
Our greatest advantages for chatbot projects? Chatlayer’s platform, our own expertise and certainly also our multidisciplinary teams.
Ahead of change
And what comes next, after chatbots? Frederick plays it close to the vest. But whatever new technology comes along, Ordina picks it up with great enthusiasm. Moreover, as practice manager application platforms, Frederick plays an important role in the process. “In 2013 I won a scholarship for a training course at the Singularity University, a worldwide ecosystem focusing on innovation and digital transformation. There it was impressed on us that the mindset within companies has to change fundamentally: we have to adapt much more quickly and proactively and become more resilient. At Ordina we want to help companies stay ´ahead of change´. We need passionate and enthusiastic people for this, ones with the will to learn. And we´re very fortunate in that respect: Ordina gives everyone the opportunity to grow at their own pace.”
Mapping out pollution
To illustrate Ordina´s human approach, Frederick concludes with a recent project that he’s very happy about: “Together with the University of Antwerp we´re using IoT (GPS trackers) and cloud technology to map out plastic pollution in the Scheldt river for the Zero Plastic Rivers project. That´s what innovation should be: bringing a number of technologies together in order to create something new that offers added value – for customers or, in this case, for society. It’s this kind of project that gives me and many of my colleagues a real boost.”
Innovation is bringing a number of technologies together in order to create something new that offers added value.