Virtual personal assistants (VPAs) have become commonplace not just at home, but also in offices around the world. These are application programs that understand requested information in written or spoken words and performs the tasks for an individual.
Although there is significant growth in real Virtual Assistants in the workforce, largely due to the increased number of both remote workers and platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr, this article will shine a light on smart VPAs and how they’re currently integrated in businesses.
VPAs In the Market
There are currently a few heavy hitters in the VPA market.
- Apple’s Siri is one of the more popular VPAs, built right into the iPhone since the iPhone 4S, and provides fast voice recognition services, weather features, notebooks, and web services
- Microsoft’s Cortana, first introduced in 2009, is a warm and helpful VPA that can help with important tasks like setting up appointments, creating calendars, and making phone calls. It’s advanced AI capabilities allows it to easily answer multi-tier question quickly. Since Cortana can easily go from phone to computer, it is especially helpful for many people who need a VPA for work use it.
- Google Assistant is one of the smartest VPAs around, and can work with the Google Home system and Android systems. With the up and coming updates from Google, this VPA will be able to participate in more natural two-way conversations with users, a trait that is helpful for any customer support team.
- Amazon Alexa is another intelligent VPA mainly used through the Amazon Echo. It is similar in features to other VPAs, but one of the biggest benefits lies in its connection to Amazon. You can link your Prime account directly to Alexa to easily make purchases or listen to music on Amazon Music, Pandora, or Spotify,
- Samsung’s Bixby is a newer VPA that behaves more like an app, allowing you to control your phone settings with keywords or use algorithms in the “Home” function to predict things for you based on your interests.
Current State of VPAs
Gartner, a global research, and advisory firm, predicts that by the end of 2018, the world’s largest 200 companies will use intelligent apps like VPAs, and use big data and analytics tools to refine their business processes and improve customer experience. According to Gartner, companies can deploy VPAs to make everyday tasks, like prioritizing emails and scheduling appointments, easier—making employees more effective via personalized content and updates.
VPAs have significant reach in sectors such as IT, manufacturing, healthcare, and finance. These devices have the possibility to create hands-free guidance for a variety of workplace tasks. Banks, for example, run through large staff networks, massive paperwork, and duplication of work. Customer service is no longer an issue for front-facing bank branches, as Badrinath Rao, CEO of Cattleya Technosys, says “Banks are reducing the size of their branches and opening several virtual bank networks. One can open an account with a virtual agent and you really don’t need people to man the center.”
For proper integration of VPAs at scale in a larger corporation, according to Ryan Faas of Computerworld, it’s all about apps and APIs. Many voice interactions are broken down into workflows that can be relatively simple or extremely complex. These are all dependent on the type of workplace tools in use, as well as the local, network and cloud resources available (aka the APIs that allow the exchange of commands, information and results). For most workplaces, these items will need to be considered for voice-enabled tasks to be done.
For the luxury retailer, Liberty they use VPAs in their warehouse. Staff is allowed headsets and microphones, as they work with a voice-controlled app from Voiteq interfaces to issue commands to a central server about which products should be picked. With their two-way base system, they can issue confirmation on goods that have been selected.
Major companies such as Ford, Whirlpool, Lenovo, GE, and Dish have announced plans to add Amazon Alexa to their hardware, to create help blend technology, home, and work life. Currently, Alexa promotes the value of VPAs to enterprise applications and professional user experiences, by allowing features like conferencing communications (through services like Skype for Business or Amazon Chime) or daily organizers for professional tasks and objectives to be easier and more manageable.
Despite major advances in VPA technology, it is definitely still in its infancy. Research and debates on topics such as data priorities, security and the IoT have sparked conversations with big tech companies, as they continue to pour resources into them. It will be a few more years before you can see VPA such as personal coaching systems or independent daily assistants connected through smartphones or wearables. Ultimately, the nature of how we work, and more so how we live, will be greatly affected by the changes seen for VPAs.