Four signs you’ll soon have a virtual assistant at work

Profile picture for user kroberts By Kevin Roberts December 21, 2016
Voice control is coming to devices in the workplace, bringing virtual assistants to enterprise applications, predicts Kevin Roberts of FinancialForce

The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) has been making the rounds across industry verticals in recent months. It has seemingly moved from our favorite science fiction movies to everyday consumer life in the form of digital assistants, and is now breaking into the enterprise. The rise of voice-controlled interfaces and assistants, from Siri and Cortana to Google Home and Amazon Alexa, has encouraged businesses to imagine the possibilities for improved business accuracy and efficiency through these platforms.

More specifically, the underlying machine learning (ML) technology that powers these new tools and solutions has proved its mettle and is now being aimed at the issues of complexity burdening the enterprise. From parsing through tons of data to automating and eliminating superfluous workflows, smart technology has introduced unprecedented efficiencies for business.

With new partnerships between established AI players and increased focus on the needs of the enterprise, 2017 seems to promise that the frontrunner for your next office assistant runs on the cloud.

1. Companies go all-in on voice control

This year has been the year for legacy companies to refocus their resources and sights onto enterprise-ready AI. At 2016 re:Invent, Amazon unveiled three new services — Amazon Lex, Amazon Polly, Amazon Rekognition — and highlighted the ways that developers could build AI features into apps for platforms like Slack, Facebook Messenger, ZenDesk and others.

Seeing the merits of a developer accessible platform, Microsoft has quickly followed suit, with plans to give developers access to a Cortana Skills Kit and an Internet of Things-specific Cortana Devices SDK in 2017. The release of the Cortana Devices SDK is a clear indication that not only does Microsoft see a future in voice-activated devices, but that the company plans to be a frontrunner in this field – helping increasing interest from other players.

2. It’s already happening – integrations now available

We’ve already seen FinancialForce customers realize that they can use Alexa to do things like check the status of deliverables, run reports, and respond to business information through simple voice commands. There’s also a specific "FinancialForce News" flow that pulls together live data from CRM and ERP projects. This delivers updates, status reports and sales invoices in a live briefing that can be tailored to a client’s specific needs.

Atlassian’s HipChat created an update that allows companies to bring voice-control/command to collaborative work environments via Soft Serve’s VoiceMyBot. The integration allows a user to connect their device to their HipChat room and teach it to perform simple tasks like start a conversation, respond on someone’s behalf, notify users of new messages and even provides conversation summaries.

These integrations with popular apps are not just coming from established players, but companies throughout the field are taking an interest in voice control and the large AI realm in the enterprise space. Zuznow, an AI-based mobile app development platform, recently announced Susie, an intelligent assistant plugin that brings voice-control and chatbots to any enterprise mobile app.

3. Opening platforms to the world

History has shown that innovation greatly increases with a diverse set of eyes and disparate groups building atop the same platform. The next generation of smart assistants and connected devices will learn from user habits and pick up on behavioral and environmental patterns in order to make experiences more predictive. With Amazon Lex and Microsoft Cortana open to developers, better learning and programming of a variety of behaviors, needs and patterns that make them more accurate and effective will become a simpler task.

4. We’re at a turning point

Voice recognition technology stands on the precipice of mainstream adoption, according to none other than Mary Meeker, the “Queen of the Internet.” Meeker predicted the rise of many technologies that have changed nearly every facet of our lives — and voice is coming. According to industry experts and Meeker, 99% accuracy will be the point at which voice goes from novelty to standard practice. As of February 2, Baidu’s Deep Speech 2 was 96.3% accurate, and the technology is quickening its march towards that 99% goal.

Use of this brand of smart technology is also already rampant. You use Siri to get the weather report, your mom uses her to find a new recipe. You turn on Spotify with Alexa and your best friend uses Google Home to turn down the heat.

The switch to enterprise is not far-fetched. Further, the user behaviors of up-and-coming generations tell a similar story. As Chris Messina, inventor of the hashtag believes:

We should look to younger generations that will grow up with conversation-based computing as ‘the norm'.

The young have grown up talking to devices, so they’re going to expect that in their workplaces. It won’t be the Jetson’s for them, it’ll be everyday life.

Ultimately, the convergence of these four signs highlights the reality that AI-powered voice interfaces have the potential to replace everything we currently do with a mouse and keyboard. Everyone is actively working to reach that pinnacle and now more than ever it’s within arms reach – or should I say shouting distance?