From scheduling doctor’s appointments to ordering takeout, digital assistants have become a routine part of daily life for many people. Whether it’s reading an interactive, digital news story with a much-needed cup of coffee or asking Siri to set an alarm for tomorrow’s grind, technology — and, increasingly, machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) — is ever-present. Now, digital assistants are beginning to do more than simply make our personal lives a bit easier; they’re also transforming the way businesses operate across the globe.
There are already multiple digital assistants on the market — Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, IBM’s Watson Assistant, IPsoft’s Amelia and Cisco’s Spark Assistant, among others — working to augment employee performance across industries.
Darrell West, author of “The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation” and founding director of the Center for Technology and Innovation at The Brookings Institution, says digital assistants will be a “big boom” to worker performance by increasing productivity and making it easier for people to do their jobs better. “Information, acquisition and analysis is a big strength of digital assistants,” says West. “They can read and interpret information more quickly than we can, so that’s a big plus for them.”
With capabilities ranging from scheduling and recording meetings to data entry, it’s clear that digital assistants boast many useful qualities — but what tasks are best left to humans? According to West, “anything requiring judgement and nuance is still best left to humans. We’re much better at understanding the context in which that information takes place.”
One primary concern of a digital assistant-driven workplace is job replacement. However, digital assistants are currently helping employees do their jobs more efficiently by increasing productivity.
In terms of what the future of work will look like in the age of digital assistants and transformation, West says, “The nice thing would be for digital assistants to take over the boring, tedious or dangerous stuff.” As a result, employees are free to focus on more difficult activities requiring greater creativity and engineering.
An article published by McKinsey addresses how job seekers can remain competitive in a rapidly changing workforce. “Many activities that workers carry out today have the potential to be automated. At the same time, job-matching sites such as LinkedIn and Monster are changing and expanding the way individuals look for work and companies identify and recruit talent.”
IPsoft’s Tracey Robinson, director of cognitive implementation for Amelia, has helped launch Amelia — a digital assistant designed to support employee performance – in a wide range of industries, including health care, insurance, retail, IT operations and more. Amelia was inspired by IPsoft’s passion for automation and curiosity about how digital employees can help human employees work more efficiently; it is currently being used in multiple roles, from HR to customer service.
“I’ve been able to see clients really grow Amelia’s roles and skills and train her on many different skills within the organization to augment [performance] and to work with their existing workforce,” Robinson says. “You could use Amelia to request PTO days. You could use Amelia to ask for particular information around your employment history, training, and maybe accreditations and certificates.”
Digital assistants are working to advance employees’ learning and development as well. Henry Amm, director of Adenin’s digital assistant platform, has seen this application firsthand in major organizations using Adenin’s digital assistant.
Cisco is one company that has blended Adenin’s digital assistant platform with additional technologies (Adenin’s digital assistant can import an organization’s individual data into its other platforms, such as Siri or Alexa). As a result, employees have instant access to company-specific information, such as policies, sales goals, certification status and more. At Cisco, Amm says Adenin’s digital assistant “contributed to higher employment satisfaction in terms of onboarding new employees at the company. Seventy percent have said that the use of the digital assistant was a positively impacting factor for joining the company.”
So, digital assistants are not only helping existing employees do their jobs better — they’re helping recruit new talent as well. “New recruits love and feel more quickly involved in a company having digital assistants as the one tool that speaks to all the other tools, rather than having to learn whole bunch of jargon and login applications like you [would have to] do previously,” Amm says.
Preparing for the Future of Work
In the age of digital transformation, Robinson notes that human employees will have to make an adjustment in order to thrive in the future of work. She says, “Organizations will definitely have to become more digital-first and look at the way in which we work. And, with that, we will have to redesign a large amount of our processes to accommodate the coexistence of digital and human colleagues working together.”
After creating Amelia, with the help of a multidisciplinary, cross-functional team, Robinson helped clients implement the technology into their organizations. She notes that, while many were well prepared for this type of technology, some clients were still working toward understanding AI at its core. However, after successful implementation into various organizations, Amelia’s performance has been noteworthy.
“A number of our clients have seen firsthand Amelia performing a number of roles and skills within organizations and service their employees or customers with results that are equal to or higher than the human colleague,” Robinson notes.
As for the future of Amelia, Robinson hopes to expand “her” capabilities across various roles — one of which is conversational banking. From locking credit cards to transferring money, banking is a customer-facing role that Amelia is working to break into. And, just as Amelia continues to progress in the digital age, so are the companies that employ her.
“I’ve seen the ways in which organizations have changed in their own business to incorporate digital employees, which is also a testament to the fact that this type of technology is becoming embedded within the way in which we work and the way we will definitely be working in the future,” Robinson shares.
Due to the rapid pace of technological advancement impacting nearly all industries, organizations should not merely adapt to these changes in order to be successful. They should embrace digital transformation with open arms in order to thrive in whatever the future of work may bring.