Meet ERICA, the Microsoft Teams bot helping Microsoft work faster

Jul 22, 2021   |  

There’s a new Microsoft Teams bot on the block.

Specifically, it’s Microsoft Teams audit digitization assistant named ERICA, or Enterprise Risk Investigation Compliance and Audit. Thanks to ERICA’s easy-to-use interface and automated features, Microsoft’s Internal Audit team can quickly access accurate information from a single place.

“ERICA streamlines how we access information,” says Jose De Jesus Sanchez Rico, a senior software engineering manager with the Microsoft Commerce Financial Systems (CFS) team. “In this case, it gets information for the user, generates documents, and processes the information, automating what auditors used to do manually.”

An internal audit can review multiple business areas and processes to check controls and report on how risk is managed and whether it is compliant. One test that is commonly performed is determining whether access to key systems is appropriately restricted. In the past, auditors within Microsoft Finance’s Audit Risk and Compliance (ARC) team tracked down, reviewed, and documented access information from several different systems. This sent auditors across multiple portals, websites, and applications to perform a single auditing task.

Now ERICA creates the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, doing all that manual work for auditors.

“Prior to ERICA coming into the picture, auditors had to validate which security groups have access to the application they are testing by switching between a number of applications,” says Michelle Lenssen, a group technology manager within Microsoft ARC’s Strategy and Solutions Technology team. Throughout this process, they would need to screenshot the applications and input their results into a spreadsheet for documentation purposes.”

ERICA brings a collision and friction-free experience to auditors, allowing them to perform many of their recurring tasks through Microsoft Teams. The Microsoft Teams bot centralizes several important job functions into one location, enabling auditors to populate templates from multiple sources with a few clicks and keystrokes.

A diagram showing the services ERICA the Microsoft Teams audit bot integrates with and their relationship to data pipelines and other resources.
ERICA integrates with several Microsoft services and connects to additional resources to create a seamless tool for auditors.

“The idea behind ERICA is to digitally transform the business,” Sanchez Rico says. “We have so many sources of data, including 30 applications where we pull information from. It’s very hard to rotate and manage all the different sources where auditors need to consult and get information, so we wanted to create one user experience where auditors could get all their needs in terms of data. That’s why we developed ERICA.”

Centralizing these functions into a single source of truth has empowered the Microsoft ARC team.

“Auditors can now complete access control tests without having to review and screenshot multiple applications. This fluidity gives an increase in productivity, and allows them to use their time elsewhere,” Lenssen says. “That is one of the reasons I love ERICA.”

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In the beginning, there was a website

Before there was ERICA the Microsoft Teams bot, a rough website was put together by the Solutions and Strategy Technology team to consolidate audit tests and functions.

“When we showed it to Jose and his team, he suggested that we create a chatbot,” says Fei Guo, a senior data solutions manager on ARC’s Strategy and Solutions Technology team.

Lenssen, a former audit and program manager, now serves as a bridge between Microsoft ARC and CFS. Along with Guo and Sanchez Rico, the two teams work closely to make life easier for Microsoft’s auditors.

“They share auditor skills, which gives us ideas as to how we represent that efficiency,” Sanchez Rico says. “Having this indication, we build it into one toolkit that can be interacted with seamlessly.”

Once Sanchez Rico’s team understood the different requirements of auditors, CFS transitioned the website into a Microsoft Teams bot. The integration with Microsoft Teams means the platform becomes even more valuable to auditors.

“ERICA is a Teams app and a web app,” says Giovanni Bejarasco, a software engineer with CFS who helped develop ERICA. “It’s the same functionality, just a different UI experience. ERICA is handled by an intelligent service, LUIS, which gives us flexibility.”

The Microsoft Teams bot is filled with a variety of templates auditors use. ERICA looks at data sources and merges everything into the template, then provides auditors with a link to download the document. The audit bot includes integrations with SharePoint, ID Web, and a slew of interactions auditors engage with throughout the day.

“Since it’s in Teams, we can use that platform’s good user experience to our advantage,” Lenssen says. “We’re not building a custom UI; we benefit from the design decisions in Microsoft Teams.”

And making sure ERICA operates in a user-friendly way makes a big difference.

“We want to make the conversational interface easy,” Bejarasco says. “You can’t expect users to remember complex formatting rules. We changed one aspect and reduced the number of invalid interactions by 80 percent.”

But ERICA can do more than just generate spreadsheets.

A bot for all seasons

“It became easy to plug things into the bot,” Gou says. “That’s where ERICA changed the way we work.”

The Microsoft Teams bot is divided by features, and CFS has given ERICA a wide array of functionality.

“Depending on the use case, we can adjust,” Lenssen says. “This allows the bot to continue to grow as the needs of the team change.”

One area greatly improved by ERICA is checking schedules and auditor availability.

“There are, on average, 11 audits a month and you could be on a new one each month—so, it’s sometimes hard to know which audit someone has been assigned to,” Lenssen says. “ERICA quickly tells us which project we’re on with just a single message.”

ERICA can also integrate with other digitization upgrades that have been introduced to Microsoft Finance, including pulling Proof of Execution (POE) documentation for the auditor.

“Proof of Execution verifies that work has been done,” Guo says. “If we pay a vendor to cater an event, we ask the supplier to take photos of the work and submit it as evidence. Auditors use this documentation to verify what the partner has done.”

Since ERICA is integrated into several sources, auditors can now quickly access POE items.

“Before this capability was built in, auditors had to go to Microsoft’s invoice system, download the images one at a time, and compare them to the Purchase Order (P.O.),” Bejarasco says. “Now they can put P.O. numbers into ERICA and download everything they need. This feature saves about 30 hours of auditor’s time every month.”

CFS has built an entire toolkit into the Microsoft Teams bot, giving ERICA a robust set of functions. Other capabilities include reporting tools to inform leadership about different audits, extract penetration test results that are stored in Microsoft Azure DevOps, generate lists of stakeholders related to the audit and format them perfectly for reports, and check audit schedules, creating visibility across the organization.

“Some features can be accessed through natural language,” Bejarasco says. “Instead of clicking, you can type in what you need, and ERICA will leverage machine learning natural language processing through Azure Cognitive Services.”

Even with all this functionality, CFS still wants more from the Microsoft Teams bot.

What’s next for ERICA?

ERICA’s design allows CFS to easily add and remove capabilities.

“It saves time and money because we don’t need to build separate tools,” Bejarasco says. “There’s an existing UX that we can leverage, it’s all integrated in ERICA. That’s a great ROI.”

One upcoming function will be a big improvement for Microsoft’s auditors.

“Each audit covers lots of areas,” Lenssen says. “Microsoft is an international business. Auditors need to look at contracts, statements of work, and receipts, among other local documents. Sometimes they encounter documents they can’t understand because it’s in another language.”

Microsoft ARC has hired local translators to help facilitate this part of the audit.

“Translators cost money and take time,” Lenssen says. “Most audits are usually constrained to one month, that’s when the testing starts and stops. We can’t risk slowing the audit down.”

To address this, CFS is onboarding Microsoft Azure Translator into the Microsoft Teams bot. Soon, ERICA will be able to batch translate a large variety of items from around the globe into English.

“Everyone knows how to use a translation website; you copy and paste,” Guo says. “Azure Translate allows you to do multiple documents at once and it will spit them all out in English.”

Integrating Microsoft Azure Translator into ERICA means bulk translation can be performed from a single location. Instead of having to hire out local translators or manually input items one at a time, Microsoft’s auditors can now receive a large volume of high-quality translations in half an hour.

“You can upload a file with 1,000 documents and it will translate all of them in 10-15 minutes,” Sanchez Rico says. “It used to take 3-5 days for a translation. This saves $100,000 a year.”

It’s nice having a bot on the team

Adding ERICA to Microsoft ARC’s toolset is part of a broader effort to digitally transform the space, but the Microsoft Teams bot is already having a dramatic impact on the speed and quality of audits, all backed by a positive user experience.

“The audit bot takes five steps and reduces it down to two,” Guo says. “Just open ERICA, click a button, and then the auditor has what they need.”

The collaborative effort between CFS and the Solutions and Strategy Technology team has created a flexible tool that can be quickly extended with new functionality.

“I was a user of the bot, now I’m part of the broader team who helps CFS understand the business needs for internal audit,” Lenssen says. “Based on my team’s feedback and needs, they continue to add features to ERICA.”

As new capabilities are added to the audit bot, Microsoft ARC expects to see even more time-saving productivity tools for auditors.

ERICA is now an important part of Microsoft ARC. As more users see the benefit of the Microsoft Teams bot, the organization will achieve new levels of efficiency.

“The Microsoft Teams bot encapsulates acquired data from multiple systems, providing a single user interface that auditors can interact with to fulfill their needs,” Sanchez Rico says. “The most important aspect of ERICA is saving time for auditors so they can focus on compliance and significant findings, not looking for or joining information sources. Everyone has a bot, but ERICA is more than that.”

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