The global market for smart virtual personal assistants (SVPA), or chatbots, is growing exponentially. What was valued at $113 million just two years ago, according to Transparency Market Research, is expected to reach nearly a billion by 2024. Furthermore, adoption of popular virtual assistants such as Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Microsoft Cortana are rapidly approaching 100 million combined users.
These offerings, however, have predominantly appeared in the consumer space for straightforward activities such as booking movie tickets, identifying restaurants, providing sports and weather updates, creating event reminders, texting and calling friends, or playing music. of the next vista is the enterprise, where SVPAs could, for instance, schedule meetings, follow up on work-in-progress activities, and carry out daily tasks such as filing timesheets, providing employee instruction, and more. All told, this could lead to significant enhancements to employee collaboration, satisfaction, and ultimately significant cost savings for organizations.
In our view, SVPAs are an enterprise disruption waiting to happen, especially when paired with Microsoft’s popular SharePoint or Office 365 platform. Here’s why.
How We Got Here
A wide range of enterprise collaboration tools, from niche systems to collaboration suites developed by software majors, are in used throughout the corporate world. That said, Microsoft’s SharePoint has dominated the enterprise collaboration space, and has been continuously enhanced to anticipate growing market changes and user expectations. Therefore, a deep-dive into SharePoint capabilities (on-premise and cloud) can help to understand the expected evolution of SVPAs in the corporate market.
For context, SharePoint came into existence at the turn of the millennium but didn’t become a holistic enterprise solution until significant updates in 2010 and 2013. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft released Office 365; the cloud version of SharePoint. This instantly rebooted the solution as intelligent collaboration platform.
Since then, Microsoft has added artificial intelligence (in the form of machine learning) and personalized search features to improve productivity. What began as a simple, on-premise document management and storage system has evolved into an intelligent content and collaboration tool, supporting both on-premise (in the latest version of SharePoint 2016) and cloud (Office 365) solutions.
That said, SVPAs can now work with both SharePoint and Office 365 to transform last-mile transactions. For starters, Microsoft has already integrated Skype into its Office 365 suite. SVPAs can now be integrated into Skype messenger and retrieve insights and information from Office Delve. By doing this, end-users and their SVPA can work together on a common set of tasks and transactions.
Given technology advancements, personal virtual assistants are no longer simple, instruction-driven bots. They are gradually becoming smart. An SVPA associated with a particular user can now be trained to understand the tasks offered by its human counterpart and can learn on the job as humans do.
Enterprise SVPA’s are already equipped to handle routine e-mail and calendaring tasks, taking notes and summarizing information, checking for updates before redistributing the latest information to meeting participants, and automatically following up on deadlines, tagging documents, and conducting induction training.
Admittedly, enterprise SVPA’s and bot technology are still in a nascent stage. While Slack, Facebook Messenger, and Amazon’s recently-launched Lex are fast becoming popular development platforms, Microsoft (given its installed base head start) is leading the pack of emerging solutions that are well positioned for enterprise success.
As SVPAs become entwined in day-to-day activities and work closely with human counterparts, the dynamics of organizational collaboration and communication will be upended. Work will no longer be restricted to collaboration and communication between humans; instead, human-to-SVPA and even SVPA-to-SVPA interaction will become commonplace.
For organizations considering SVPAs, it is important to analyze the existing digital landscape, identify strategic business processes, and develop a roadmap. At an early stage, starting small and choosing low-hanging fruit will expose employees to SVA’s virtues – as well as vices.
Furthermore, SVA collaboration could be a starting point for organizations that want to more fully embrace conversational AI (i.e., voice-driven work automation) down the road. The real challenge will be humanizing SVPAs to ease employee familiarity and willingness to work with them (For more on this, read “Cognitive Computing: The Next Stage in Human-Machine Coevolution”). Ultimately, the digital maturity of an organization will be dependent on the digital maturity of its employees.