Voice assistants have undoubtedly given us something to talk about, but most of that chatter is singularly focused on the consumer experience, particularly as to how voice-first devices service and enliven our homes. All play and no work means we aren’t tapping into the full arsenal of capabilities voice assistants offer. However, since the announcement that Alexa is going 9-to-5 and making its way into the office, the noise around voice assistants has finally started extending toward enterprise use cases.
Why exactly should voice be considered in terms of the enterprise? For starters, while many companies are pulling out all the stops when it comes to cultural amenities for the office—yoga rooms, full bars, karaoke soundstages—they are woefully antiquated when it comes to the technology employees are actually using in the office, even for the most basic of administrative tasks. Voice technology represents an opportunity for the enterprise to catch up and even trailblaze after falling behind-the-times, thanks to the massive automation and interconnectivity benefits it can provide.
There’s always initial reluctance to introduce new technology into the workplace, but the fervent, widespread consumer adoption of voice assistants proves that people are not only familiar with this technology but embracing it. That should be enough initiative for companies to at least start implementing a digital voice strategy, if not outright incorporating voice assistants into their workspaces to create a more connected office.
Still on the fence? A recent report from Spiceworks, which surveyed 500 IT professionals, uncovered some pretty compelling evidence that voice assistants are becoming the office admins of the future. Twenty-nine percent of organizations have implemented AI-powered voice assistants and chatbots already—within the next year, 40 percent of companies are projected to adopt them. Microsoft’s Cortana is currently winning the enterprise voice assistant popularity contest, as 49 percent of organizations using voice assistants choose it. Alexa, surprisingly, comes in last, but as Alexa for Business catches on, its consumer familiarity should propel it up in the enterprise fast.
The biggest benefit voice assistants can currently offer the enterprise is automating simple, administrative tasks through conversational interfaces. Of the organizations that have already adopted voice assistants, Spiceworks reports that 53 percent implement them within their IT departments to simplify time-consuming, cumbersome tasks. The power of voice assistants to automate and smooth out efficiencies can be seen in everything from managing calendars and adding appointments to them, creating to-do lists, quickly ordering or reordering office supplies, booking conference rooms, controlling lights and room temperature, making travel plans and initiating calls and meetings. Not only is voice optimizing these enterprise tasks, the increased efficiency that comes with literally speaking these things into existence is saving money on their related marginal costs.
It should come as no surprise that people generally gravitate toward the option that takes the least amount of effort and offers the greatest amount of efficiency. Voice assistants reduce friction points in an office environment, where many of those administrative tasks mentioned above can be accomplished with a simple voice command that doesn’t strip employees away from jobs or duties they’re already performing, rather than having them re-shift their focus and revert back to the screen paradigm and use a laptop, phone or tablet in order to get them done. After all, the ability to get things done hands-free is never taken for granted in the home – why should it be any different in an office?
Presently, we’re at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to utilizing voice assistants. They’ll not only revolutionize the enterprise, they’ll also make jobs as a whole easier. Imagine programming a voice assistant with pre-canned responses to answer basic questions for employees in an office, or leveraging one while creating Facebook ads while it proactively offers advice, tips or data on how to generate better leads or achieve a higher ROI. This sort of predictive, real-time, interactive support would not only save employees time, but increase their level of productivity—that’s the ultimate power of the voice channel.
The key to unlocking the true potential of voice assistants is cross-platform integration with other enterprise services through the creation of process bridges. Currently, the lack of integration and the gaps this creates between different enterprise systems and platforms remains voice’s biggest obstacle in the enterprise, but savvy voice-first providers are already addressing this. For example, Amazon has plans to leverage AWS business partners like Microsoft, SAP and Salesforce in order to integrate their enterprise services and applications with Alexa.
Another common pain point with voice assistants in the enterprise is having multiple devices in a single space. Control over things like identifying and responding only to an individual voice, filtering background noise or even correcting for biases if multiple people are using a single device remains elusive. Alexa does allow people to set up a voice profile so that a device will recognize a given voice and distinguish it from others, but it’s not yet a refined solution. Case in point: the recent viral video of Alexa, Google Home and Siri responding to each other on an infinite loop. This proves it’s not so much a people problem as it is a technical one.
Despite these remaining issues, the potential applications for voice in the enterprise unquestionably outweigh any implementation bumps along the road. As prominent voice-first providers like Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft start focusing on the integration of these devices with other enterprise tools, voice assistants in the office will finally be able to offer true end-to-end experiences and usher in a new professional playing field.
Want to learn more? Check out Sutherland Digital president, Andy Zimmerman's, latest whitepaper, "Customer Service is in the Air".