Voice interfaces have been a dream of technologists for a long time. In recent years, we have witnessed how advances in deep learning and cognitive computing technologies have made voice interfaces a reality for consumer mobile applications. Even though conversational interfaces still haven’t seen meaningful adoption in the enterprise—this is about to change. The capabilities and rapid progress of conversational interfaces are set to become one of the fundamental building blocks of the next generation of enterprise mobile applications.
The fundamental characteristics of conversational interfaces in the enterprise will be based on providing seamless mechanisms to interact with enterprise systems using voice commands. In enterprise mobile solutions, conversational interfaces can be seen as an extension of the user experience provided by mobile applications. However, this simple extension opens the doors for new scenarios that were incredibly hard, or simply impossible to solve without conversational models.
Conversational interfaces in the enterprise
Taps, swipes, and voice commands
Like taps and swipes, conversational interfaces are becoming another element of the user experience in mobile applications and a dominant element in the user experience of IoT and wearable solutions in the enterprise. From that perspective, enterprise mobile and IoT solutions will soon incorporate voice interactions as another mechanism to access business data or interact with business processes.
One of the great benefits of voice interactions in the enterprise is the conversational experience. While the user interactions in mobile applications are constrained to what’s provided on the different screens, conversational interfaces offer an open ended model for users to interact with business systems by asking questions or dictating actions via voice commands. The conversational nature of voice interfaces offer business users a model to interact with enterprise systems without being constrained by a specific user interface.
Enterprise mobile applications are designed for single user interactions. Even in the scenarios in which multiple users collaborate to accomplish a task, each user is likely to be interacting with a separate instance of a mobile application. Conversational interfaces break that boundary, allowing different users to interact with a single application in order to accomplish a specific task. This capability enables levels of collaboration in enterprise mobile and IoT solutions that were simply not possible before.
Voice integration with line of business systems
Conversational interfaces will enable enterprise mobile and IoT apps to interact with enterprise systems via voice commands. These models will create a direct channel between business users and line of business systems without the constraints of a specific mobile user interface. Just like web services or APIs, conversational interfaces are likely to become a new integration model for enterprise systems
Internationalizing enterprise mobile and IoT solutions is a very complex endeavor. Factors like support for different languages or cultural differences in user experience make it extremely challenging for mobile applications to effectively develop international capabilities. Conversational interfaces offer a simple model to internationalize mobile and IoT experiences in the enterprise. Most cognitive computing interfaces effectively support different languages and conversation models which provides an immediate mechanism for mobile and IoT applications to work across different geographies and markets.
Conversational mobile interface technologies
In recent years, conversational interfaces have become one of the most intense areas of competition and innovation in the mobile space. As a result, the industry has produced many technology platforms that leverage cognitive computing to deliver extremely sophisticated conversational interfaces. While the first iteration of these platforms was really focused on the user experience, it didn’t take long before entire conversational interface platforms were available to developers looking to incorporate those capabilities into mobile and IoT solutions. To this day, the competition for dominance in the conversational interface platform space remains fierce with some key technologies leading the charge:
Amazon recently released the Alexa Skills Kit and Voice Service which allows developers to add new capabilities or skills to enable voice interactions in applications. In an enterprise context, Alexa skills could include capabilities such as retrieving lead information from a CRM system or placing specific orders in a corporate ERP via voice commands.
Apple’s Siri is, without a doubt, the most widely used conversational interface in the market. Even though Apple hasn’t completely opened Siri as a platform, there are several programming interfaces that are available via technologies such as Apple’s HomeKit. Enabling programming models to interact with Siri can become one of the catalysts of conversational interfaces in the enterprise.
IBM Watson is, arguably, the most advanced cognitive computing platform in the market. The conversational interface capabilities of Watson are completely available to developers via the Watson Developer Cloud. As part of the offering, IBM has provided Watson SDKs for mobile platforms such as Android and IoT. In the context of the enterprise, IBM is aggressively developing vertical solutions that bring cognitive capabilities via Watson.
Microsoft’s Cortana has developed an impressive set of conversational capabilities which are available to mobile developers via the Windows 10 developer tools. From an enterprise perspective, conversational interfaces provided by Cortana are becoming a common feature in Microsoft’s products, and the developer interfaces are starting to be adopted by the large Microsoft developer community.
Google Now provides a simple model for developers to add custom actions which can be activated by voice commands. Similar to Microsoft, Google is starting to incorporate conversational interfaces powered by Google Now as part of its line of business systems. Additionally, Google Now is likely to benefit from the contributions of the rapidly growing Android developer community.
It’s not just a big boys game
While some of the aforementioned platforms have the potential to lead the adoption of conversational interfaces in the mobile enterprise, the space is seeing a lot of innovation by new startups and telecommunication vendors with an established enterprise customer base. This level of competition is likely to make conversational interfaces one of the most relevant capabilities of the next generation of mobile and IoT solutions in the enterprise.
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