Virtual Assistants and the Modern Office

“Michael, I need the report from last Tuesday.”

“Heather, bring me Donnelly’s assessment.”

“Brad, get me some coffee!”

Assistants make the business world turn. Without them, we’re going to spend more time on menial tasks. We’ll waste more minutes with the minutia than tackling the pressing, important projects.

They can be called by a wide range of names, from personal assistants to administrative assistants to secretaries, and even project managers.

Whatever they’re called, they are a vital component of businesses, and have been for generations. Today, though, there are other options available, at least to some degree and they’re referred to as virtual  assistants.

What is a Virtual Assistant (AI Assistant)?

A virtual assistant, also called AI assistant or digital assistant, is an application program that understands natural language voice commands and completes tasks for the user.

Such tasks, historically performed by a personal assistant or secretary, include taking dictation, reading text or email messages aloud, looking up phone numbers, scheduling, placing phone calls and reminding the end user about appointments.

Popular virtual assistants currently include Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana — the digital assistant built into Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 10.

Most people, when asked, will have heard all about some of these entities, even if they’ve never heard them referred to as ‘digital assistants.’ Siri (Apple’s iPhone brand), Alexa (Amazon’s digital assistant), Cortana (Windows), and Google all provide a range of services, and they’re most commonly thought about in the context of personal, home usage.

Asking Siri to find some smooth jazz could be a way to help the tired, worn out business professional relax once she returns home. Ordering Alexa to <ahem> order some take out Chinese from a local restaurant could benefit another busy professional who is just trying to make some time for his children.

Playing music, looking up dining options, shopping, calling friends or family, setting appointments on the calendar, and so much more are what these devices offer as benefits to regular individuals from all walks of life.

But they are also laying the foundation for more business-oriented digital assistants. These powerful players in the Digital Assistant market are incorporating these entities into more and more products, and now they’re starting to dive into the business world.

Artificial Intelligence, or AI for short, is being introduced into this sphere as well, and the implications are vast and far-reaching (USA Today).

In fact, with more files becoming digitized, more projects being started and completed using cloud-based technologies, the tasks that were once commonly performed by average-paid personal assistants will now be able to be performed by digital devices.

Advancements in Voice Recognition Technologies

Tech companies have realized that speech is still the most powerful form of communication, and if people have to type commands into a computer or digital assistant to get them done, that takes far more time for most people than to simply say a command.

While Siri, Cortana, and even Alexa have been pioneering devices, they aren’t perfect. In fact, many people continue to complain about the limitations in speech recognition. In one family, for example, the wife may direct one of these devices to play a certain radio station, only to be met with continued silence, or it decides to turn off the lights in the living room. Yet, the husband may give a command and it’s followed to the letter. Every time.

If a business professional has to repeat herself time and time again to a digital assistant, then the value of that help is going to diminish quickly.

However, if artificial intelligence can learn from various commands, begin to develop a keener ‘ear’ to those individuals providing commands, its accuracy will increase. On top of that, as with the best administrative assistants through the ages, artificial intelligence will be programmed to anticipate workflow, commands, demands, and expectations, thus moving ahead of the proverbial curve in order to offer the best support for its masters.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

Coupled with the advent and emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT, for short), where more and more electronic and other devices are having the capacity to connect to the Internet and be controlled remotely, it’s opening up new avenues commercially.

And this is where the modern office may benefit most.

Imagine a copier that can self-diagnose problems, repair basic issues, or order servicing in anticipation of a potential breakdown days before a problem takes over. Or consider an organizing software program that automatically generates reminders, schedules forthcoming meetings, and other activities based on past assignments, orders, or meeting notes.

This removes a tremendous workload from employees, allowing them to focus on more pressing and pertinent tasks that, as of yet, cannot be done (physically, accurately, or economically) by digital assistants.

Where Does Your Office Sit?

The modern office is going to capitalize on the latest technologies, allowing owners, managers, and even general team members the opportunity to connect, improve efficiency, and focus on more important tasks than those that can be handled by artificial intelligence.

One of the first key steps for any modern office space when it comes to digital virtual assistants (DVAs) and artificial intelligence is making sure the platform will be uniform across the spectrum.

In other words, Apple’s Siri isn’t going to work with Amazon’s Alexa. Also, another brand DVA isn’t going to be compatible with the aforementioned products, and that will significantly limit the effectiveness of the DVA.

When building a digital assistant platform (Business 2 Community), it’s critical to consider long-term impacts. What may be new and innovative today might become obsolete in just a few years, and by building an entire digital office around that system, upgrading and shifting could be costlier than taking a bit more time to investigate which platform is most suitable to the company’s current needs.

Digital Assistants are one thing, and artificial intelligence is another aspect entirely, though the two are becoming unified with each passing year. AI is one wave of the technological future and while there are some who advise against the full merits of what AI can offer, taking advantage of the baseline tools already available can reduce overhead, allow you to put your human resources to better use, and grab the technological edge over the competition.


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