Thanks to developments in AI and conversational UIs, virtual assistants (VAs) have burst onto the market with a lot of promise. In the business world, VAs have already changed the way some organisations operate and plan their workforce. Yet, many organisations are yet to properly take advantage of this burgeoning technology.
But this is all about to change, at least that’s what Gartner seems to think. According to Gartner, the use of VAs in the workplace is growing fast – by 2021, it predicts that 25% of digital workers will use a virtual employee assistant (VEA) on a daily basis. This will be up from less than two per cent in 2019.
“Industries such as insurance and financial services are showing strong interest in piloting VEAs internally,” said Annette Jump, senior director at Gartner. “We’ve also witnessed VAs being used in IT, customer service and information queries.”
This prediction reflects the will of organisations to deliver a digitally enabled employee experience.
“Ultimately, VAs used in the workplace and VEAs will increase employee productivity and foster constructive engagement,” added Jump.
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Examples include Amazon’s Alexa for Business helping employees delegate tasks such as scheduling meetings and logistics operations, and Nokia’s MIKA helping engineers find answers as they perform complex tasks or diagnose problems.
The market for conversational platforms — VAs and chatbots — includes more than 1,000 vendors worldwide. However, over the next couple of years, a race to provide new capabilities will result in the vendor landscape changing drastically.
“IT leaders looking to implement a conversation platform should determine the capabilities they need from such a platform in the short term and select a vendor on that basis,” said Jump.
Voice interfaces for business will multiply
More employees will interact with applications via their voice — by 2023, Gartner predicts 25% more. Perhaps this is a more surprising prediction given how most VAs and chatbots are currently text-based. Gartner is confident that AI-enabled speech-to-text and text-to-speech services are improving quickly.
“We believe that the popularity of connected speakers in the home, such as the Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod and Google Home, will increase pressure on businesses to enable similar devices in the workplace,” said Van Baker, vice president at Gartner. “While there are limitations on the actions that VPAs can perform, employees will readily expand the actions allowed as capabilities improve.”
Gartner also predicts that spending (both consumer and business) on VPA speakers will reach over $3.5 billion in 2021.
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A recent example of the integration of VPA speakers in the enterprise is the partnership of Amazon with Marriott. The hotel operator uses Alexa-powered Echo VAs to assist with checkout procedures and management of rooms’ amenities.
“Voice technology is also already being used by physicians to document patient data within electronic health records,” added Baker. “Voice recognition technology can also be used to place orders for tests and medications, which will save time. Undoubtedly, other companies will bring voice interactions with applications into the clinical setting, so that speech capabilities will rapidly become standard within most healthcare applications.”
According to Gartner, voice interfaces free digital workers from having to use a mouse and keyboard when interacting with business applications. This freedom can benefit frontline workers greatly. “Enabling voice interaction with applications will ultimately enhance the digital dexterity of workers who have access to them,” concluded Baker.
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