Telstra gives staff a HR virtual assistant called Darcy

Telstra has created a HR virtual assistant called ‘Darcy’ as part of its T22 transformation that is designed to provide staff with “easier access to answers to HR questions.”

Digital experience principal Melissa Dorey told last month’s IBM Think 2021 conference that Darcy shared the same IBM foundations at Telstra’s front-facing customer support assistant, Codi.

Dorey said that “virtual assistants and AI” had been on the HR roadmap for some time, but were fast-tracked into action in the past year.

“During the pandemic, I was quite inspired by a lot of rapid innovation and fast-tracking of roadmap items that I saw in our organisation and indeed in the industry, and I thought to myself, ‘now is a really great time to innovate’,” Dorey said.

Darcy said that searching HR policies was historically challenging due to differences in language used by HR and by staff.

“We’ve always struggled in providing easy access to answers to HR questions and queries,” she said.

“For a long time, we looked at different intranets, knowledge bases and search engines and those types of things. 

“But when you really break it down, we’re challenged around language in a lot of ways. HR terminology for a policy or process is often quite different to what different areas of the business would refer to some of those actions or those processes.

“So right from the beginning, you have a challenge where somebody is asking a question, we’ve got to translate that and figure out what they’re asking, and understand the best way to answer it. 

“And when you try to drive self-service, people are confronted with that right at the start. They type in a search term, and it can be hard to match that to the content that they need to answer their question.”

As an example, Dorey said that a common search term by staff is ‘Workday’, which is Telstra’s core HR system.

But searching ‘Workday’ alone produces far too many matches to be useful.

“They were just getting so much content every time and we realised there’s an opportunity there to help that person understand what their real question is,” Dorey said.

Darcy was set up to be more “than an FAQ bot”; it prompts staff for more information to work out what they want, and can also do some pre-qualification checks to see if staff are eligible for a policy before submitting an application.

Dorey demonstrated an example using Telstra’s purchase leave policy, where Darcy asked a staffer enough questions to make sure they were eligible to buy more leave days.

In the future, however, Darcy may not need to ask: the virtual assistant may be able to poll other bots or the Workday system itself to get the answers and qualify the staffer there and then.

“One of the key parts of our plan to scale up [Darcy] is a greater connection to our HR core systems,” Dorey said.

“We’re keen to look at how we connect better with Workday or other sources of employee data because if you look at that question that I just had, a much better way to answer it would be if Darcy was able to check very quickly, ‘Do I have a leave balance, and am I eligible?’ by checking a number of different systems and the policy.”

In addition to being able to orchestrate background actions to draw a conclusion, future Darcy may also be able to do some actions on the staffer’s behalf.

“We’ve had in the feedback [to Darcy] that people have already started to have the expectation that Darcy could perform tasks on their behalf,” Dorey said.