Gartner foresees virtual assistant boom at work

The use of virtual assistants (VAs) in the workplace is growing.

Market analyst firm Gartner predicts by 2021, 25% of digital workers will use a virtual employee assistant on a daily basis. This will be up from less than 2% in 2019.

According to Gartner, the contact centre was the pilot and testing ground for early VA adopters.

But, with the democratisation of artificial intelligence (AI) and the development of accurate and clever conversational user interfaces, different types of VAs have arisen: virtual personal assistant (VPA), virtual customer assistant (VCA) and virtual employee assistant (VEA).

"We expect VEAs to be used by an increasing number of organisations 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."

Examples include Amazon's Alexa for Business helping employees delegate tasks such as scheduling meetings and logistics operations, and Nokia's MIKA helping engineers find answers as they perform complex tasks or diagnose problems, says Gartner.

"Ultimately, VAs used in the workplace and VEAs will increase employee productivity and foster constructive engagement," adds Jump.

The market for conversational platforms, VAs and chatbots, includes more than 1 000 vendors worldwide, Gartner notes.

However, it points out that over the next couple of years, a race to provide new capabilities will result in the vendor landscape changing drastically.

Rise of voice

Gartner predicts that by 2023, 25% of employee interactions with applications will be via voice, up from less than 3% in 2019.

It points out that 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.

"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, VP 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 consumer and business spending on VPA speakers will top $3.5 billion in 2021.

A recent example of the integration of VPA speakers in the enterprise is the partnership of Amazon with Marriott. The hotel operator uses Alexa-powered Echo VAs to assist with checkout procedures and management of rooms' amenities.

In the healthcare sector, says Gartner, remote diagnostics and elder-care applications will be enabled by VPA speakers. Some are already being piloted.

"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."

Voice interfaces free digital workers from having to use a mouse and keyboard when interacting with business applications. This freedom can benefit frontline workers.

"Enabling voice interaction with applications will ultimately enhance the digital dexterity of workers who have access to them," says Baker.