Enter the Virtual Personal Assistants

  • Gartner feels devices will enhance Enterprise Workforce Productivity
  • Time to start thinking about efficiencies voice can bring to your workplace

SINCE the introduction of Virtual Personal Assistants (VPA) devices (such as Amazon Echo) to consumer markets in early 2015, users have begun to realize how naturalEnter the Virtual Personal Assistants language processing (NLP) can reduce friction and encourage adoption.

Consumption of audio content, management of connected home services, and shopping bots have spawned a multi-billion dollar market for VPA devices (market snapshot: VPA-Enabled Wireless Speakers, 2016-2021) and caused new devices and vendors to enter this burgeoning consumer market.

This Alexa For Business announcement extends the value of VPAs to enterprise applications and professional user experiences:

  • As a communications tool that makes conferencing (through services like Skype for Business, Webex, or Amazon Chime) easy;
  • As a voice interface to your business calendar, to set up and prioritize your daily schedule;
  • As an organizer of your daily professional tasks and objectives

Alexa devices now are able to connect to your scheduled conference call without punching in access numbers and passwords (especially useful for hands-free experiences like commuting in your car).

While at the office, open APIs into existing unified communications platforms and hardware devices (Cisco IP phones, Polycom speakers,…) will enable hands-free, voice-controlled interactions by simply connecting an Amazon Echo device.

Connecting to a Microsoft Exchange service account will give Alexa access to employees’ business calendars. This is done through the Alexa for Business systems administrator console. Meetings with a colleague or other personal contact can be set up via voice.

Other calendar applications such as O365 or gmail calendars that support OAuth are natively supported, and timely meeting reminders can be proactively spoken out by Alexa. Employees can link their personal Alexa account with their organization’s in order to access Alexa for Business on ALL devices, at home and at work.

Timers, to-do-lists, and events will be maintained and tracked by Alexa, to ensure that no personal goals slip through the cracks of forgetfulness.

But wait: some of the foundational and architectural elements of the announcements point to much more far-reaching impacts:

  • IT managers’ ability to assign or restrict access rights to enterprise resources (ERP data, documents, corporate data,…) via Alexa will enable more AI-controlled applications;
  • System administrators’ device setup and control features will allow VPA devices to be deployed in volume at conference rooms, office desks or corporate lobbies;
  • Employees’ ability to link personal Alexa accounts and skills with business applications will provide personalized experiences, even when brought into the professional realm;

Enterprises’ ability to define “private skills”, i.e. experiences that are specific to one particular company, and accessible only to its employees, point to a deeper integration between VPAs and bespoke enterprise applications.

Amazon’s announcement is a beginning: we are still lacking many necessary features such as (voice-) biometric authentication and speaker recognition from shared office devices, scheduling a call for more than one recipient, and Alexa commands for standard conferencing functions (muting, recording, transfer of presentation rights,…).

But look at it this way: Echo devices were first introduced to consumers as media players, and look at how many other experiences we enjoy now! Just think about it: Amazon also announced transcription and translation services that could one day be integrated into applications that manage calls, take meeting minutes and make these transcriptions available in other languages.

Alexa For Business, though limited in scope today, points to opportunities for deeper integration and workplace productivity enhancements in the future. Now’s the time to start thinking about the efficiencies and productivity enhancements that voice can bring to your workplace.

Werner Goertz is a Research Director at Gartner.

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