September 12, 2017
Voice technology is nothing new. Bell Labs began experimenting with it as early as 1952 with its Audrey system. Yet because of numerous complexities, such as limited lexicons, difficulty distinguishing voices and/or accents, speed of translation, and high costs, the enthusiasm for and therefore development of voice applications waned. That is until Siri arrived, the magical friend in our pockets, ready to help us with all of our queries.
While Siri certainly has experienced growing pains, her voice, knowledge, and sense of humor are based on the ability to rapidly make sense of data in a way that makes her seem “real.” Apple’s practical application of artificial intelligence (AI) through Siri has helped bring voice technology into the mainstream and ignited a new world of possibilities. Just take a look at Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s new Apple ad (The Rock x Siri Dominate the Day) to think about all the ways you can use Siri to manage your day.
Amazon’s entry into the world of voice-enabled devices, Alexa, has the capacity to take this industry up a level by combining voice, data analysis, and AI with the Internet of Things (IoT). While Alexa can already play trivia games, order paper towels, and help you discover new music, she can also control things like smart plugs, Internet-connected light bulbs, central heating, and alarm systems. It won’t be long before the oven is preheated on your way home from work, and Alexa’s soothing voice welcomes you when you walk in the front door.
Up to this point, however, the vast majority of applications in development for voice-powered IoT devices have been directed at consumers. This is no surprise, as the enterprise consistently lags behind consumer adoption of technology, often by years.
Something has happened, though, that suggests that voice could play a significant role in the enterprise of the future: a new understanding that user experience matters for both employees and consumers. Enterprises are slowly recognizing that they can leverage voice-control technologies to make their employees more productive and efficient, from automating manual tasks to researching information in order to complete their projects.
Betting on a voice-enabled enterprise
As voice-activated computing devices continue to improve and consumer behavior further defines the user experience that seeps into the enterprise, smart voice applications will become the norm in business operations. This will happen within the next 10 years, give or take (remember we are still talking about the enterprise). Here’s why:
People are doing more talking and less typing. I often overhear strangers who prefer speaking over texting say things like, “Thanks Tom exclamation point. See you tonight smiley face.” Speaking texts and Google searches will just be the tip of the iceberg.
Speech recognition continues to improve. The success rate of Siri, Alexa, and Google Voice to correctly understand what you are saying is rising. It’s just a matter of time before voice input technologies make perfect sense out of complex, jargon-laden enterprise IT phrases.
The demand is there. Alexa-powered devices are already being tested in the enterprise for innocuous tasks. Forward-thinking companies are using them as assistants for meeting connection and collaboration activities or are making voice commands to search meeting notes. In the days to come, these uses will expand as work is also being done to integrate Alexa with key business systems like Salesforce and Workday.
The new enterprise frontier
To really progress, however, there has to be a lever that takes voice from a nice-to-have feature to something truly useful, and voice fingerprinting will propel the necessary paradigm shift. Nobody is worried about a bad actor telling Alexa in your house to set a tea timer for four minutes, but enterprise IT pros would worry if the device could access protected resources. That will change as rapid advances are being made in voice fingerprinting. Secure speaker recognition will unlock a great deal of potential.
Once this happens, IT pros can adopt voice as a common input device and computer speech as output. This will give birth to an entire career field of non-visual user interface design as well, an entirely new UX frontier. To be clear, no one is suggesting a whole office full of people speaking to their machines all day (talk about a loud environment), but we’re seeing some very practical and immensely useful ways smart voice technology can be applied to improve enterprise operations.
Take for example an incident response situation. You’re sitting at home, just put the kids to bed, and are trying to relax in front of the latest Game of Thrones episode when suddenly you get THAT call, and the alarm sounds. One of your critical systems is down. Instead of packing up and driving all the way back to the office, wouldn’t it be much simpler if you could just say “Alexa, restart my exchange server named Denali” or “OK Google, run the SecureOne health report” -- all without leaving the couch?
We’ve already experimented a bit with this using IFTTT.com (if this then that), which takes a trigger and then performs an action. In our tests, we’ve taken the input Alexa/Google Assistant, “If you say Restart [Server X]” to then perform the action “Run [Workflow Y].” Today, the IFTTT service cannot directly run a workflow, but what it can do is send an HTTP POST/GET command, which can then trigger a named workflow action. This is just to show what’s possible now. Imagine the possibilities in a few years, especially when the potential security concerns are resolved.
Voice control is the future. It’s only a matter of time before it’s commonplace for everyone from sales people getting status updates, or the CIO getting IT assets and status questions answered to the system admin following up on specific queries or threats. This is just the beginning of a whole new enterprise, so get ready to really experience the power of your voice.
Jim Souders is CEO of Adaptiva. A global business executive with more than 20 years experience, Jim excels at leading teams in creating differentiated software solutions, penetrating markets, achieving revenue goals, and P/L management. Prior to Adaptiva, Jim led high-growth organizations from start up to public offering and acquisition in a variety of advanced technologies, including IT infrastructure management, cross-platform mobile application development, WAN/LAN optimization, and wireless supply chain automation systems.
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