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Intelligent virtual assistant market takes shape as it grows

Explore the growing enterprise use of intelligent virtual assistants to facilitate tasks and enhance the meeting experience.

Intelligent virtual assistant tools helped keep workers connected and productive during unprecedented times. And, while they enjoyed a surge in use the past year and a half during the pandemic, IVA tools are still carving out a role in the enterprise.

IVA tools offer a wealth of capabilities, like meeting transcription, translation, scheduling, data entry and action items, to coordinate communication and workflow across disparate teams. IVA tools can even fill the position once held by executive and administrative assistants for employees of all levels -- not just for those at the top. Conversational AI has become an IVA feature now prominent in call centers and other customer support areas. Building on chatbots, which are not interactive, these tools store information, personalizing customer interactions for better service.

Enterprise use of IVA technology will continue to grow, and the market is still materializing. Industry analysts foresee a future with IVAs as a constant presence in completing everyday tasks. Many business leaders praise their ability to increase efficiency, while decreasing workloads -- a benefit often promised but less commonly delivered by emerging technology.

Market research firm BCC Research projected intelligent assistants, as a segment of the smart machine market, will grow from $6 billion in 2021 to $26.2 billion in 2026.

Standalone product vs. platform feature

IVA tools are available either as standalone products from vendors like Otter.ai, Hendrix and Chorus.ai or as applications integrated into existing platforms like Zoom, Cisco Webex Assistant and Microsoft Teams.

While TechTarget spoke with several enterprise executives who implemented IVA technology as a standalone platform, analysts predict the future of IVA is as a component within a larger platform.

"It's typical for these new technologies to be positioned in a vacuum," said Jon Arnold, principal of J Arnold & Associates. "After a while, it goes mainstream and loses its buzz, becoming just another feature. IVA will just become another feature on the Webex or Teams platform."

The exceptions will be in highly regulated industries, like government and healthcare, where they will require a standalone platform for security and compliance reasons to better track interactions, Arnold noted. Such industries also use specialized language that requires the most accurate speech recognition tools available from an autonomous platform.

Irwin Lazar, president and principal analyst at Metrigy, agreed that the standalone IVA market will slowly dissolve over time as the bigger players, like Cisco, Zoom and Microsoft, acquire smaller, specialized vendors.

"It just makes more sense to integrate the IVA features. You'll end up with vendors like Google offering third-party features that you can build into their app," he said. "It will become a feature within the core product."

Security a top concern for IVA deployment

Several business leaders whose companies implemented IVA technology cite security as their top concern in IVA use, particularly regarding transcription and translation capabilities, as the tools streamline data to process voice recordings. Security breaches are common occurrences with the shift to remote work and away from perimeter-based security, creating more holes for attackers to exploit, which puts organizations on higher alert.

The advantages of automation, speed and scale are too good to ignore. It's easy to see why companies want to go down this road.
Jon Arnold

A lot of security and privacy issues stem from whether an organization's data is secure with the IVA vendor, according to Haroon Sethi, CEO of Proqura Technologies, a SaaS-based e-procurement platform.

"Is it being sold to third parties? Can it get stolen during transmission? Issues like these will always be there unless a vendor offers on-device processing for transcription and translation," he said.

While many standalone vendors offer extensive features, like two-factor authentication and encryption, data security concerns still remain an issue in IVA deployment.

"One of the big areas of concern we've heard from IT and security folks is what kind of content is being generated in the meetings and where is that going," Lazar said. It becomes a question of where the content is stored, who has the ability to access it, how it's encrypted and who holds the encryption keys. "That's a concern when using a third-party application," he added.

The IVA takes tedious tasks off employees' plates

Even with security concerns, IVA tools appeal to organizations' ongoing desire to eliminate manual, everyday tasks, such as transcribing meetings, pulling action items, entering data and scheduling meetings, which can become distracting and time-consuming. Several business leaders, encouraged by how IVAs free employees to focus on more creative, bigger-picture work, now relegate routine tasks entirely to an IVA.

Employees have become accustomed to, even dependent on, similar benefits in their lives as consumers who use tools like Cortana, Siri and Alexa for searching contacts, syncing calendars and initiating phone calls and texts, Arnold pointed out. This change in consumer behavior inevitably carries over into their work lives.

"Management used to have personal secretaries to handle certain tasks. Now, an IVA can do just that," Arnold added. "Every worker can have their own personal assistant, and that's a pretty attractive thing."

The typical company today maintains vast collections of folders in their systems, which can turn basic tasks, like locating and retrieving necessary files or documents, into a wild goose chase. With an IVA, employees can quickly locate and share files with speech-based search capabilities. Arnold explained IVAs let companies create their own Google-like search systems based on the company intranet just for their employees.

For example, a worker can instruct the IVA to find the quarterly report, Arnold said. "Once a document is digitized, it can be searched. And it can be brought to you in either text or audio -- whatever format you need."

In the same vein, IVAs can help employees navigate information overload common in content-heavy roles, according to Ethan Howell, co-owner of Florida Environmental Pest Management.

"Workers may begin to appreciate that the IVA may know better based on a study of historical behavior and patterns by this time," he said. Similarly, examining large volumes of complex data sets can be logically delegated to the IVA for its powerful processing capabilities.

IVA advantages in the meeting experience

According to a recent Metrigy survey, the most popular IVA functions relate to the meeting experience and include note capture and transcription.

"IVA lets people focus on the meeting without having to say, 'Sorry, I missed that.' Meeting distractions don't matter with a good meeting assistant," Lazar said. "The use of IVAs can create more powerful meeting experiences and allow people to focus more on the content of the meeting without having to worry about taking notes."

Metrigy also found companies spent an average of 90 minutes to perform the necessary scheduling for follow-up meetings and task assignment. The great potential for companies to simply save time is the most compelling benefit of IVA tools in place, Lazar said.

IVAs can listen in on meetings and capture words like task, action item and assignment to subsequently generate an appropriate summary. Many business leaders delegate such duties to the IVA itself.

"The most useful IVA feature for my company is transcription and recording meeting actions on a daily basis," said Aqsa Tabassam, head of outreach at Apps UK, an online app review resource. "Before the implementation of a virtual assistant, I always had trouble deploying the right actions to the right people, but it has made my job smoother."

Many leaders feel IVAs have changed the game in communication and collaboration. With the global upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of how people work, IVAs can keep up with workflow changes that demand faster scheduling and task delegation.

Employee productivity is the primary driver of IVAs' rise in popularity. With offices uprooted by remote work, employees had to acclimate to unfamiliar video conferencing tools, which hindered productivity, according to several executives.

Business leaders and analysts alike agree that security risks aren't enough of a deterrent to stop the growth of IVAs. "The advantages of automation, speed and scale are too good to ignore," Arnold said. "It's easy to see why companies want to go down this road."

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