A quarter of the digital workforce will use virtual employee assistants (VEAs) such as Amazon’s Alexa daily by 2021, up from just 2% at present, according to a report by research firm Gartner.
The democratisation of artificial intelligence (AI) and the development of accurate, context-aware and clever conversational user interfaces have helped companies to increasingly deploy these virtual assistants, Gartner said in a statement.
Virtual assistants are taking shape in several roles such as virtual personal assistants (VPAs), virtual customer assistants (VCAs) and VEAs, the company said in a media statement.
“We expect VEAs to be used by an increasing number of organisations over the next three years,” said 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.”
According to Gartner, Amazon's Alexa for Business has been helping employees delegate tasks such as scheduling meetings and logistics operations while Nokia's 'MIKA' helps engineers find answers as they perform complex tasks or diagnose problems.
There are more than 1,000 vendors providing VAs and chatbots, Gartner estimated, adding that more voice interfaces will be built exclusively for businesses. It also predicted that by 2023, 25% of employee interactions with applications will be via voice, up from under 3% in 2019.
“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. Ultimately, VAs used in the workplace and VEAs will increase employee productivity and foster constructive engagement,” added Jump.
Although most chatbots and VAs are still text-based, AI-enabled speech-to-text and text-to-speech hosted services are improving rapidly, Gartner noted in its report adding that this was helping in the rapid deployment of voice-based solutions.
“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,” said Van Baker, vice president at Gartner. It said that consumer and business spending on VPA speakers will top $3.5 billion in 2021.
Amazon recently partnered with hotel chain Marriott for using Alexa-powered Echo VAs to assist with checkout procedures and management of rooms’ amenities.
“Healthcare also will be an early adopter. 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,” Baker added.