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Google Duplex and The Virtual Meeting

Google Duplex, VR meetings and what’s next for the meeting experience

Google Duplex and The Virtual Meeting

It’s an exciting time to be working in the Unified Comms and Collaboration industry. It’s even more exciting to be buying in the Unified Comms and Collaboration industry. Long gone is the procurement process for some handsets and a race to the bottom on VoIP licenses. We now get to talking about virtual assistants at work and hosting virtual reality meetings.

Cisco Webex Assistant

Back in November 2017, Cisco announced they were working on Cisco Spark Assistant, following their acquisition of MindMeld. This will now be Cisco Webex Assistant, following their rebrand to Cisco Webex.

Cisco stated in their blog:

“With the MindMeld team’s technology and expertise, we’re enabling cognitive capabilities within the Cisco Spark platform. This makes Cisco Spark a comprehensive AI-powered collaboration solution”. So, what does this really mean?

Take Alexa or Siri and think of all the wonderful things they can do. Now, apply these to a business scenario where you require a meeting. This covers basic functions such as starting the meeting, calling someone in your directory and booking and recording meetings.

But it’s 2018 and we’ve come accustomed to basic functionality via our smartphones, laptops and virtual assistants.

Business Integration

To make a business case for a virtual assistant in the workplace, CIOs need to understand how it can enhance the technology they are already invested in. This was something clearly lacking as Cisco announced their rebrand and showed off their virtual assistant.

As a one-off purchase or included in a higher license tier, it’s hard to identify the business challenges that a virtual assistant will solve. At least, it’s hard to identify them now. As this type of technology matures, businesses should expect to integrate these artificial intelligence type applications into their day to day workloads. Whilst there is nothing on the roadmap for cross platform integration, it’s hard to believe the likes of Slack and Microsoft don’t see the value of extending an olive branch to Cisco and really making this work. Or perhaps they are working on their own.

Are We There Yet?

No is probably the answer. Cisco’s live demo didn’t fill partners and customers with a great deal of confidence. Starting meetings and booking meetings through your voice is a fun capability but isn’t going to produce the productivity gains that every CIO is after.

Struggles with dialect and unusual words (or names) is clearly a stumbling block for Cisco here. If there are several Michael’s in your business with varying surnames, it could take some time to invite the correct Michael to your meeting. Or if your meeting room has a peculiar name, you could end up booking the wrong one.

For now, it’s still quicker to add everybody via your email or meeting client but the potential is certainly there. The BETA caveat was heavily emphasised, so feedback can’t be received too critically. The message was quite clear. This is cool and we’re working on bringing it into your businesses sooner rather than later.

Google Duplex

Since Cisco’s live demo, Google have really stepped up. Google CEO Sundar Pichai shocked the audience with an incredible demo of its own virtual assistant, Google Duplex.

Rather than asking your mobile phone or virtual assistant to call someone then have the conversation, Google Duplex can hold the entire conversation for you. In one example, Pichai showed Duplex booking a women’s haircut at a certain time. When the receptionist couldn’t find an appointment at that time, Duplex scanned the calendar to propose another free timeslot and the booking was made.

One step further, Pichai really wowed the audience when trying to book a table at a Chinese restaurant. The dialect detection was so far advanced that Duplex concluded that you didn’t need to book for a party that small at that given time – despite the struggles with dialect and clarity. Impressive, considering how hard it is to book a table human to human sometimes.

This is the kind of virtual assistant that could really change businesses. If you can set your business virtual assistant to run your diary and book your appointments, this opens the door to all sorts. Not only do you have time back in your day, personal assistants can be more productive, and we could even see contact centres running purely on artificial intelligence. A conversation for another day.

What’s Next?

Over the last few years, Unified Comms & Collaboration has been responsible for the introduction of smart conference calls, virtual meetings and vastly improved team working.

With the introduction of virtual assistants into the workplace, it gets you thinking what the boundaries are here.

There’s a fine line between investing in virtual meeting software and glamorous telepresence solutions. And a strategy really must be defined before you buy both and use neither.

If everybody is working from home, travelling or in a coffee shop then why invest in expensive meeting experiences for when you are in the office? The huge concentration on huddle rooms has seen sales for Polycom and Cisco boom. But, we can go one step further.

It’s by no means ready but what about virtual reality meetings? Think about combining the best of both worlds. As a business leader, you’ve probably purchased a telepresence solution then enabled your staff to conduct virtual meetings without the need to come into the office.

This is bringing the 70-inch screen, immersive displays into your employee’s home office and even on their commute into the office. Imagine the scene. Your board room is all set up but there’s nobody there. Does there need to be anybody physically there? With more businesses focussing on outcomes rather than presence, if you can conduct a formal meeting without being in the board room, then why wouldn’t you?

We know virtual reality devices are a reality. Wouldn’t it be great if we could adopt this technology at the same time as the consumer world rather than lagging behind it?

It’s an exciting time to be in the Unified Comms and Collaboration industry.


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