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Virtual assistant apps not quite geared for businesses, yet

While popular among consumers, virtual assistant tools are not exactly deployed in enterprises. But IT leaders are showing interest in this emerging business technology.

With the emergence of Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple Siri, many consumers now expect to use their voice to...

control devices and find information, such as weather reports or sports scores. By extension, the practical uses of virtual assistant apps for enterprise collaboration are pretty easy to see. Consider the following use cases:

  • Enter a conference room and use voice commands to start a meeting, including video and audio conferencing and screen sharing, without manually initiating each of those applications.
  • Ask a team collaboration app to open recent files on a specific topic or information related to an individual, group, customer or task.
  • Ask a project management app to have team members provide project updates.
  • Ask your phone or softphone to call a co-worker, so you don't have to look up the number.

In these examples, virtual assistant apps provide value by improving the efficiency of communications and collaboration, allowing workers to accomplish tasks more easily.

Today, however, personal voice assistant options for businesses are limited. Microsoft's Cortana is arguably the most widely deployed business-focused virtual assistant, allowing users to set reminders and create lists. Third-party plug-ins enable users to query other applications.

But, like Alexa, Google and Siri, most current capabilities are consumer-focused. Want your personal assistant to play music? No problem. Want it to query a database or share the latest sales report with the team? Not yet.

Virtual assistant apps raise security concerns

Virtual assistants aren't quite ready to revolutionize interaction with collaboration endpoints and applications, but it's only a matter of time before voice becomes a common way for application control.

Virtual assistants are becoming a key component of digital transformation. In a recent Nemertes Research study, enterprises cited virtual assistants as one of the most vital technologies for digital transformation success. Organizations with successful digital transformation strategies are more likely to include virtual assistants within their digital transformation efforts.

In our conversations with IT leaders, we hear a great deal of interest in virtual assistants, especially since so many are using Alexa, Google Home and Siri in their personal lives.

We also hear of security concerns related to having a passive listening device sitting inside a meeting room or office. However, since these devices do not transmit information until they are activated by a key word or phrase, such as "Hey Siri," these security concerns are somewhat limited.

Another security concern is the potential need to archive conversations and control access to personal virtual assistants if they involve querying or modifying sensitive information, such as legal advice or patient data within a healthcare facility. Pairing voice controls with voice recognition and authentication is likely to alleviate these concerns, as well.

Launching meetings quicker

Vendors in the collaboration space see the potential to pair virtual assistants with artificial intelligence to deliver services that respond to defined commands and proactively offer suggestions based on learned behavior.

For example, a virtual assistant could scan your calendar, see a meeting with your marketing team, and suggest distributing relevant documents or ask if you want it to poll team members to update the status of previously assigned tasks. Virtual assistant apps could also recognize a person's voice, enabling a smart meeting room to determine who has entered the room, scan the user's calendar, and ask if they want to start the audio and video bridge to conduct a scheduled meeting.

IT leaders wishing to explore the potential of virtual assistant apps to improve collaboration should talk with their vendors to discover current and planned capabilities. They may also wish to develop use cases or even experiment with Amazon Alexa's open APIs to create pilot projects for internal testing and evaluation.

Virtual assistants aren't quite ready to revolutionize interaction with collaboration endpoints and applications, but it's only a matter of time before voice becomes a common way for application control.

Next Steps

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This was last published in October 2017

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