The Rise of Virtual Employee Assistants in the Workplace

Industries like insurance and financial services are showing strong interest in using them

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From Amazon’s Alexa for Business that helps employees delegate tasks such as scheduling meetings and logistics operations, to Nokia's MIKA that assists engineers in finding answers while they perform complex tasks or diagnose problems, the use of virtual assistants (VAs) in the workplace is growing.

Within the next two years, 25 per cent of digital workers will use a virtual employee assistant (VEA) on a daily basis, a jump from less than two per cent in 2019, says a report by research and advisory company Gartner, Inc..

Rise of the VAs

The contact centre was the pilot and testing ground for many adopters of VAs, but with the democratization of artificial intelligence (AI) and the development of accurate and clever conversational UIs, different types of VA have arisen: virtual personal assistants (VPAs), virtual customer assistants (VCAs) and VEAs, says the report “Predicts 2019: Leadership Means Expanding Options, Not Limiting Them”.

“We expect VEAs to be used by an increasing number of organizations over the next three years,” says Annette Jump, senior director at Gartner. “Industries such as insurance and financial services are showing strong interest in piloting VEAs internally. We’ve also witnessed VAs being used in IT, customer service and information queries,” she adds, in the report.

“Ultimately, VAs used in the workplace and VEAs will increase employee productivity and foster constructive engagement,” Jump says.

There are more than 1,000 vendors worldwide for conversational platforms, VAs and chatbots. Over the next few years, however, a race to provide new capabilities will result in the vendor landscape changing drastically. “IT leaders looking to implement a conversation platform should determine the capabilities they need from such a platform in the short term and select a vendor on that basis,” says Jump.

Increase in Voice Interfaces

By 2023, Gartner predicts, 25 per cent of employee interactions with applications will be via voice. Although most chatbots and VAs are still text-based, AI-enabled speech-to-text and text-to-speech hosted services are improving rapidly. As a result, deployment of voice-based solutions will grow, the report says.

“We believe that the popularity of connected speakers in the home, such as the Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod and Google Home, will increase pressure on businesses to enable similar devices in the workplace,” says Van Baker, vice president at Gartner. “While there are limitations on the actions that VPAs can perform, employees will readily expand the actions allowed as capabilities improve.”

Gartner predicts that consumer and business spending on VPA speakers will top $3.5 billion in 2021.

In the healthcare sector, remote diagnostics and elder-care applications will be enabled by VPA speakers. Some are already being piloted, the report points out. “Voice technology is also already being used by physicians to document patient data within electronic health records,” adds Baker. “Voice recognition technology can also be used to place orders for tests and medications, which will save time. Undoubtedly, other companies will bring voice interactions with applications into the clinical setting, so that speech capabilities will rapidly become standard within most healthcare applications.”