Virtual Assistant Vendors

Virtual Assistant Vendors

These are interesting times for the chatbot maker and enterprise users. Every global tech major – Google, Amazon, and Apple – are all out with their own versions of the digital assistant, ready to help the consumer’s daily needs and regular requirements. Small wonder then, that the underlying natural language technology is also making an impression on the workplace.

For now, the primary area of focus for virtual assistants at the workplace, is centered around employee productivity and workflow automation. What’s more, advances in AI techniques, have improved speech recognition accuracies, with companies like Google moving beyond the 95% mark.

For companies looking to invest in digital assistants, there are four primary ways of leveraging speech-tech:

  • Speech-to-text can be actioned for uses such as email dictation, gradually growing in accuracy and speed;
  • Text-to-speech can be implemented across mobile settings, like the ability to envision personalized podcasts, work document reviews, and quick notes during a commute;
  • Conversational interactions through digital assistants, with commands that prompt document location or calendar entry creation;
  • And finally, speech analytics for ‘sentiment analysis‘, helping interviews or training sessions.

Before embarking onto the selection of a virtual assistant, businesses must first ask themselves a number of questions. This begins with, understanding who’s the best fit – which is the service provider, one should consider partnering with. Conventionally, most firms go with any of the larger cloud providers (Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft), all of whom offer speech technologies.

Needless to say, each has its own USP.

Next up, is a critical pivot for a company; asking oneself, what is the balance that must found between tech and human intervention? Who will finally arrive at this decision? And, what are the business issues, one is trying to solve?

Remember, it’s important to distinguish between a tech refresh and an eye on the bigger picture, the long and short of digitization, and the role of AI in an enterprise.

Let’s now move towards assessing possible roadblocks to the introduction of virtual assistants, and the situation, on-ground.

Virtual Assistant Vendors & Products

Whatever you choose to call them, here’s a list of digital assistants and conversational interface reviews on UC Today.

Right here, right now

While voice-activated digital assistants are making a genuine impact in the consumer landscape, they are yet to find an equally effective footprint at the workplace. However, they are finding a space and are often used to accomplish daily business tasks, such as scheduling appointments, responding to messages, and getting directions. But then, this has been the case so far, since 2011, when Apple launched Siri.

Voice, is yet to really yet to come into its own at the workplace, and if it has to find deeper penetration, it must forget obvious shortcuts.

Firstly, voice isn’t for every situation. It’s vital to be realistic, and appreciate the limits of what voice can do. Remove the usual assumptions; voice isn’t going to take over everything, spreading rapidly across the entire building. The image conjured by the words ‘smart office’ or ‘voice-enabled’ is of an environment that’s completely powered by voice, only – almost akin to a scene from a sci-fi experience. Acoustic challenges, financial difficulties, and complexity of carrying on conversations with the digital assistant and a co-worker, at the same time, makes this rather unrealistic.

Secondly, the key here is to analyze not the degree of usage, but instead where we will use voice, and how we’ll end up using it. The answer lies in enterprise APIs and apps, connecting into each other.

Consider a simple task – “Send Andrea, XYZ files from ABC division for last month, so that he can update slides 7 and 8, for the deck meant for Monday’s meeting.”

Despite its deceptive simplicity, this isn’t just a single request; in fact, it’s a break-down of multiple tasks, from sending a new message to a person, locating the relevant information and including it, adding instructions on the data upload, marking the slides which require the matter, and finally attaching an invite for the meeting.

Most voice interactions, tend to break a command into such to-do lists, ranging from simple to extremely complex. Configuring workflows via IFTTT (If This, Then That) is a common way of creating a set of commands that can resolve a complex action into a simplified roster of triggers, across apps, services, and devices. The true potential of voice in the workplace, is the ability to create a blueprint/framework for such possible on-the-fly workflows.

Thirdly, one must come to the conclusion of whether it is a single voice or many, that needs to be deployed. In other words, will the company select a single service provider, or go for a smart mixture of say, Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant?

Truth be told, there are both challenges as well as opportunities, to be unearthed. Except for Siri, most voice applications can be integrated with non-native devices and other operating systems. That said, while Cortana and Google assistant will work on Windows, Android and iOS, their abilities and functionalities will vary. If a variety of platforms and voice applications are supported, IT divisions must both define and implement the strategy at work – while also creating a user guide & statement-of-purpose.

This could actually be the differentiating factor, on whether voice and its capability for in-house collaboration, can find genuine success. As with any enterprise digitalization initiative, user adoption and engagement, is a critical yardstick for acceptance and continuity.

Is the future, the voice?

There’s no doubting the fact, that voice is here to stay. Across industries, meeting rooms, and boardrooms, more and more businesses are using voice-based digital assistants for meeting and scheduling management, among other daily assignments. This clearly reduces timelines, redirects worker effort, removes tedious iterative activities, and makes the employee more focused on the larger goalposts.

That said, this is a revolution, that’s yet to completely take shape. The voice has found a fraction of its real place, with the need for greater synergies between platforms, apps, hardware, and workflows.

Therefore, a prudent IT department in any firm, big or small, will try and stay abreast of these changes, and create an individualized plan for staggered or eventual introduction, of the voice in business processes. Make no mistake then, speech recognition and digital assistants are fast moving from the realms of fiction and film, to a world of regular and normal workplace products for business profitability.

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