Over the past few years, digital transformation and artificial intelligence (AI) have brought considerable change to the workplace. AI-powered software programmes that can understand and interact in conversational language, also known as virtual assistants - are becoming increasingly common, and for good reason.
While the applications of virtual assistants used to be relatively limited, recent advances in Natural Language Processing (or NLP) have made them a true asset to the workplace. Most people are familiar with bots in a customer service capacity, but thinking of them as mere automated support agents is to do them a disservice.
Virtual assistants’ ability to streamline processes, connect online data sources and get back to you at any time and from anywhere make them not only efficient but also entertaining - in short, the ideal digital colleagues.
Here are 6 reasons why you should think about making your next digital business hire a bot:
Imagine you’re in front of your computer about to book flights and accommodation for an upcoming business trip. It’s the end of a busy day and most of your colleagues have headed home already. The thing is, you don’t have your company’s travel policy at hand and are unsure about what hotel category you’re entitled to. You could contact HR (but won’t get a response until the next day) or spend an hour navigating the company Intranet. Or you could message your digital assistant, who will get back to you within seconds with an accurate answer taking into account your destination, seniority level, reason for travel and other external factors.
Digital assistants are just as useful to other departments, such as your IT helpdesk, where they can respond to employee queries, automate key areas of IT support and hand issues off to human agents when needed.
In a nutshell, they provide employees with the answers they need, as soon as they need them, enabling management to focus on complex cases and strategic development rather than spend their time responding to day-to-day queries.
Workers across the board spend a considerable amount of time switching from one application to another. From email to CRM, social media to cloud-based text-editing, Excel to accounting software: each shift may only take a few seconds, but over the weeks it adds up to a considerable amount of time lost.
A 2014 International Data Corporation (IDC) study brought this issue to light by showing that 61% of workers need to access four or more systems in order to carry out their daily responsibilities. For 13% of knowledge workers, that figure rises to 11 or more systems. What’s more, respondents didn’t find what they were looking for half of the time, leading to annual losses of $5.7 million. Quite a figure.
AI-powered digital assistants can access several enterprise data sources at once, providing workers with the answers they need and digitising operations without requiring them to continually switch between software. This has the effect of ultimately boosting productivity across the board.
A big advantage of digital assistants is their ability to proactively notify workers when action is required - for example, when server response times are outside of normal ranges or inventory is running low.
No more setting up reminders and creating to-do lists: virtual assistants can be programmed to ping you when contracts are nearing expiration or a particular sales lead is in need of attention. Furthermore, their ability to integrate a variety of workplace applications means they’re able to notify workers proactively when new documents are added to shared files, effectively automating and streamlining communications between workers.
There’s a name for digital assistants’ perpetual state of readiness: “ambient intelligence”, or “ambient computing”, which refers to electronic environments that are aware and responsive to the presence and actions of humans.
This makes them invaluable in workplaces, where they not only proactively notify employees of potential issues that may need their attention, but also stand by 24/7 to answer queries and implement required actions.
Furthermore, virtual assistants can be made available from several different devices, accompanying workers wherever they go. They can be summoned with a click or voice command, meaning workers have access to essential files and information wherever they happen to be. In today’s increasingly mobile work environment, that’s no mean feat.
The interfaces of traditional Intranet portals are determined by admins rather than users and tend to see little evolution once they’re set up. This can make them unwieldy and complex, meaning workers spend a lot of time searching for the information they need.
Digital assistants, on the other hand, draw on patterns in user behaviour in order to constantly improve themselves and provide ever more accurate responses - that’s what makes them “smart”. By learning about employees’ needs in a variety of different contexts - at their desks in front of a computer, working from home on their tablets, or on the road via voice command - they proactively provide information exactly when it’s needed. Chatbots can furthermore deliver reports and insights into the questions most often raised by employees to help management improve policy planning and better address issues raised by staff. And if there’s one thing that makes employees happy, it’s a system that’s built with them in mind and that evolves alongside their needs.
Digital offices are growing more complex (and more exciting) by the day. Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, self-driving vehicles, and new interactive interfaces based on different communication mediums are slowly becoming a reality for workers across industries. Virtual assistants integrate these environments and not only bring them all together, but also serve as mediators between humans and technological innovation with an all-round positive impact on workplace productivity.
Virtual assistants are an all-round positive addition to your company. By bridging the gap between information and the end user, they help employees adapt to ever-evolving digital environments and technological innovation as a big part of their daily working lives. More specifically, digital assistants help avoid data silos, streamline internal communications, assure that up-to-date information is available in real time and enable management to spend less time responding to routine - but nonetheless essential - queries. All this combined makes them not only desirable, but downright essential.