Is the workplace the next stop for virtual assistants?

Virtual digital assistants like Siri, Cortana and Google are a fixture in daily life, helping us retrieve a phone number or navigate to an appointment.

Now, these standard services on phones are seeking a place in our homes and eventually, the workplace.

Three technology heavyweights — Microsoft, Google and Amazon — are betting these chatting, blinking inanimate objects will become the norm as artificial inteligence moves into the workplace. (Facebook is reported to be working on its version for Messenger called Moneypenny after James Bond’s classic assistant, and Apple’s upgrade has entered prototype testing inside Apple’s labs.)

Gallup reports that nearly two-thirds of working adults say they don’t have enough time in the workday to complete their tasks, so marketers and developers think AI devices will help. Traditional and tech start-up developers are spending time and research to create the perfect office assistant, that can take on mundane chores like setting up meetings and plowing through emails at the sound of a voice command.

National companies are looking for digital opportunities in the workplace.

Staples plans to bring its iconic Easy Button to life. The Massachusetts-based office supply company is testing a smart assistant device that looks like the Easy Button and which customers can use to order products, track shipments and help with returns. They plan to start larger testing of the idea with 100 customers this year.

Citrix, a software company, is working on ways to enable Alexa commands to allow employee to reserve conference room, and control their lights and equipment by voice command.

Some companies with Delaware connections are spending money to develop program-ming for virtual assistants and finding ways to use Amazon’s Alexa to help their customers.

Greg Gurev, CEO of My Sherpa

“Alexa has an eco-system of connected devices built in an open architecture,” Greg Gurev, CEO, My Sherpa, a Delaware business technology consultant firm, said. “That is less of a personal system than a voice interface for automation for your home. Tie to you locks, anything on your network.”

There is a robust Amazon Skills site www.amazon.com/skills that allows programmers to make this communication task easier.

A quick check of the Amazon Alexa skills site shows only a few Delaware businesses have created user commands.

  • Gatehouse Media has skills for all its Delaware newspapers, so if you download their “skill” and ask Alexa “What’s New” she will read their top news of the day.
  • Philly broad-casters like 6abc and Delaware radio station WDEL also provide their news content this way.
  • Capital One became the first financial institution to add voice skills to Alexa.
Ken Dodelin, vice president of digital product development at Capital One

“We added a capability for folks to pay their home and auto loans, and the response so far has been great. It is a 4.5 star skill in the Amazon skill store and we continue to test and learn our way through to continue to create great experiences for our customers,” said Ken Dodelin, vice president of digital product development at Capital One.

In addition to letting customers access their Capital One credit cards, bank accounts, home and auto loans, now the Alexa skill uses natural language to simplify common financial questions in a human way, helping customers stay on top of their money through effortless interactions.

Using any Amazon Alexa-enabled device, customers are now able to ask questions about:

  • Spending during a specific time period – “Alexa, ask Capital One, how much did I spend last month?
  • Spending at 2,000+ popular companies – “Alexa, ask Capital One, how much did I spend at Starbucks this month?

Dodelin said that their interest in adding more capabilities to digital assistants will continue to expand.

“The investments being made in this space [virtual assistants] span through all technology companies — they all seem to have their own virtual assistant and I think we’re going to see a lot of investment in trying to get customers to continue to have great experiences through them.”


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