Digital Assistants in the Workplace

Voice-based virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant are commonplace in consumer devices and applications for personal use, but they are just beginning to emerge in the workplace. The combination of voice recognition, voice command and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that led to an explosion of compelling phone apps and sophisticated devices for consumers have been slowly making the transition into the business world. However, the rapid adoption of these technologies shows just how comfortable consumers are talking to smartphones and virtual assistants, so it is just a matter of time before digital assistants designed for business applications will be the norm.

Today, virtual assistants are primarily used to look up answers to general questions on the internet and provide news, weather, and traffic updates. However, digital assistants designed for consumers also offer features that can be beneficial in the workplace for tasks such as creating reminders, setting alarms, taking notes, performing mathematical operations, and controlling cloud-based devices. While they do have practical business applications, digital assistants designed for consumers are generally more focused on providing entertainment than helping you get your work done.

Current Landscape

Digital assistants designed solely for the workplace have been slow in coming, but there are some examples such as x.ai. With x.ai it is as simple as connecting your calendar and updating your preferences. Then, it’s as simple as CCing one of their AI personal assistants, Amy or Andrew, and they handle all of the correspondence required to schedule your meetings for you. Amy and Andrew are programmed to learn from each interaction, so they become more useful and efficient over time.

Another example of a digital assistant designed specifically for business applications is Cisco Spark Assistant. Based on their MindMeld technology, Cisco Spark Assistant enables cognitive capabilities in the Spark platform making it a comprehensive AI-powered collaboration solution. With Cisco Spark Assistant, you can navigate and control Spark devices by speaking naturally, making it easier to start, join, or leave meetings. Over time, Spark Assistant will get smarter and enable more functionality, such as finding and booking a free meeting room, taking meeting notes, helping you find relevant documents, and more.

Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant, has configuration options specifically optimized for businesses. Signing in with an Azure AD account enables Cortana to access to your enterprise/work identity and provide all the functionality you get from Cortana at home.

Future Impact

So, what possible applications do digital assistants have in the business world beyond managing your calendar and scheduling your meetings? Business applications will be easier to learn and use, and more tasks will be automated, freeing workers up from the time consuming and arduous tasks they perform on a daily basis. In addition to making us more productive, digital assistants can help us build an inclusive and supportive work environment.

Changing how we interact with our coworkers is one area where digital assistants can have a positive impact. They can play a big role helping us modify our behavior and leading us towards more informed, respectful, and constructive discourse in the workplace. For example; having a digital assistant read your email before it gets sent out to a broad audience to make suggestions for softening the tone if the email seems emotional or overly harsh.  Or, having a digital assistant monitor your conversations with coworkers and make suggestions for improving your interactions, or provide coaching to help resolve disagreements constructively, would go a long way toward improving teamwork and morale.

Another area where a digital assistant could prove invaluable is on your HR team, working as an employee advocate, detecting and eliminating human bias in the workplace and providing an objective view of hiring and performance management practices. A digital assistant on your HR team could also be useful for collecting, processing, and analyzing employee data to help with career alignment and ensure job satisfaction.  Additionally, as the trend toward globalization grows and more interaction with people from diverse backgrounds is inevitable, a digital assistant could monitor industry trends, current events, and the latest business practices to stay current with the ever-changing HR landscape, and use that knowledge to warn you before you publish advertisements or job descriptions talented candidates may find offensive.

Digital assistants could also help with your messaging in the marketplace, providing guidance and making recommendations throughout the entire content creation and publishing process. By tracking the latest web and social media trends, a digital assistant could help you develop content and social media strategies that increase customer engagement with your organization. It could suggest compelling topics and recommend the best channels and optimal timing for distributing the content. A digital assistant with its finger on the pulse of Twitter could read tweets before they get posted to warn of toxic language and provide some indication of how your message will be received by the general public.

Final Thoughts

As AI improves and smart devices gain the ability to gather more context about the way you do your business, digital assistants will become more prominent in the workplace. More business productivity applications will integrate voice recognition, voice command, and AI technologies, making them smarter and easier to use. More devices will be connected to the network enabling us to control our environment, speaking naturally without having to remember specific voice commands. Digital assistants will also play a big part helping us improve the culture in the workplace, keep our discourse civil, and creating a true multicultural work environment.

Cerium has a long history partnering with Cisco and Microsoft and a unique perspective on digital assistants at work. Contact us to learn more about the future of digital assistants in the workplace, or how Cisco Spark Assistant or Azure AD for Cortana can benefit your organization today.

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