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As workers return, virtual assistant tools get a new look

People are familiar with using Siri and Alexa to control TVs and listen to playlists. Now, businesses are examining how these tools can help protect employees coming back into the office.

We're all probably familiar with using Siri, Alexa or the Google Assistant to control our TVs, identify music and remind us to take out the trash. Now, intelligent virtual assistants, or IVAs, are bringing AI and machine learning capabilities into collaboration apps and meeting rooms to improve engagement experiences and deliver tangible value.

Beyond simple queries such as, "When is my next meeting?" and setting timers and reminders, virtual assistant tools provide a variety of capabilities, among them:

  • Scheduling calls and meetings;
  • Creating follow-up tasks;
  • Searching for information such as files or notes;
  • Reading messages;
  • Starting, managing and ending calls and meetings.

As employees return to the office, IVAs are gaining renewed attention as a way for workers to use voice commands instead of their hands to control video conferencing systems.

As a result, IVAs are increasingly available as built-in features within popular video conferencing systems and meeting software, or via devices running Alexa for Business. More advanced IVAs, such as Cisco's Webex Virtual Assistant and Otter.ai, even support real-time transcription and translation.

Ten tasks for a virtual assistant

IVAs help productivity, but security concerns loom

According to Metrigy, 43% of enterprises have adopted IVAs, typically for meeting control and management, while another 44% are either evaluating virtual assistant tools or planning to deploy them at some point. Companies are looking for IVAs to improve productivity, citing in particular those that provide meeting note-taking, action item capture, transcription and translation. Use cases range from general-purpose meetings to situations -- among them regulated industries and telehealth -- where it's essential that information is captured accurately.

As employees return to the office, IVAs are gaining renewed attention as a way for workers to use voice commands instead of their hands to control video conferencing systems.

We find the biggest concern for those implementing or evaluating IVAs is security. Even if voice capture requires the initial use of a keyword, like "Alexa," to activate, companies worry about the risks associated with a device that captures participants' voices and sends that data outside the organization for processing.

As part of due diligence, it's critical for IVA buyers to understand how data is captured, where it is stored, how it is encrypted and who may have access to it. Fortunately, most IVA vendors offer controls that allow companies to disable features if necessary.

Storage of transcripts and meeting notes is another security concern. Those responsible for compliance must ensure that any content created by an IVA is properly tagged and retained, and that access is controlled as necessary.

Plan carefully before buying

Security concerns notwithstanding, virtual assistant tools offer a tangible return on investment. For example, companies deploying an IVA that can capture and translate meeting transcripts can eliminate the cost of paying for dedicated translation services. IVAs, integrated with team collaboration apps, can share meeting and call notes and highlights directly into appropriate channels where discussion can occur.

IVAs are now widely available in a variety of hardware and software applications. Take the time to evaluate their applicability to your organization. Pay special attention to security and governance requirements and make sure the IVA features you deploy provide demonstrable business value.

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