Information Architecture and the HR Chatbot

Human resources departments are increasingly using chatbots to help answer HR questions such as compensation issues and how to plan for retirement. Chatbots are perfectly suited for these questions because of the recent advances in artificial intelligence technology. Today’s chatbots are becoming proficient at interpreting natural language questions, scanning vast amounts of data, and then constructing a response that best answers the employee’s question. Many of you readers had seen a chatbot in action when you watched Watson compete on Jeopardy.

HR departments need to use “information architecture” to organize the information contained in HR policies, guidance, and training materials to help make chatbots more effective. Information architecture, simply defined, is a set of practices and techniques for organizing a body of knowledge. As many of you know, HR has many topic areas such compensation, benefits, labor relations, and so on. You HR certificate holders know the hours of study and professional experience needed to master the HR body of knowledge. Without some logical arrangement, it would be almost impossible to respond effectively to employees about their employment responsibilities and rights.

Better responses are why the HR information architecture you construct for the chatbot is so important. The better you have your HR concepts organized, the better the chatbot can respond to questions. For example, when I worked at U.S. Office of Personnel Management, I started in the Pay and Leave Policy area. Before I began working Pay and Leave, I had a simple understanding of pay; if you worked, your employer paid you net wages after taking out money for taxes

After beginning my work in Pay and Leave, I learned that compensation was much more complex. There is regular pay, overtime pay, special rates pay, and pay for being in a combat zone, and associated concepts such as salary compression. Pay took on a very nuanced and complex nature. Before I left Pay and Leave, I created an onboarding document to help my successor understand the pay concept. I used information architecture principles to build the Pay onboarding document.

Think about your HR organization. Where is your HR information? Scattered about in various documents? In both print and electronic formats? If a new employee walked in with a question, how easy would it be to answer his or her question? What if you were a new HR employee and had to search all of the documents for the answer?

The HR chatbot is your new HR employee that is continually starting its first day of work. What kind of HR information architecture will you need to make your chatbot’s responses better and more relevant to your employees’ questions? Without a good HR information architecture, you will end up with a “blatherbot” – a chatbot that spouts nonsensical or, even worse, wrong information about the HR policies and guidance.

Chatbots are tremendously useful for improving the customer service provided by HR departments. However, make sure that your HR house of information is in order before turning on the HR chatbot.

Bill Brantley
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Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at

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