CIO upfront: Voice activated technology must evolve in order to truly transform the workplace

The great hope is that this technology will free people to focus on more creative and strategic work. Yet, this is some way offBen Morgan, Accenture Interactive NZ

Picture this: Imagine having your own virtual assistant who comes with you to work, is with you wherever you are. Need a meeting booked, no problem, simply ask you virtual buddy to do it. Or can’t find a certain file, your voice powered virtual assistant has you covered– simply describe what you are looking for and like magic it appears on screen.

These are some examples of where Digital Voice Activated (DVA) devices are headed in New Zealand workplaces, but there is still a way to go.

Gartner predicts by 2021, 25 per cent of digital workers will use a virtual employee assistant on a daily basis. This will be up from less than 2 per cent in 2019.

There is no doubt the popularity of Amazon Echo and other DVA devices is already impacting how New Zealanders do business. In the consumer sphere, people are using these devices to play music, get the weather forecast, and activate their home alarms.

A staggering 50 per cent of global online consumers now use DVAs (up from 43 per cent a year ago), with people in China, the UAE, India and Mexico leading the way, according to Accenture’s Digital Consumer Survey. The use of standalone DVAs, like the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod in the United States has outstripped embedded DVA use in smartphones and other devices. And all the technology giants are developing capabilities for voice-activated AIs specifically for the workplace.


Owners of smart speakers cite privacy and security concerns - 'who is listening?', 'how is my data used?'

Consumers are already comfortable to hand over increasingly advanced tasks and responsibilities to their DVAs, but this is just the start and there’s a clear expectation these devices will take on progressively complex workloads, according to the research.

The great hope with this technology is that it will free people to focus on more creative and strategic work. Yet, this is some way off, as while the technology is great for simple tasks, it still needs to evolve to handle more complexity and chaos of our everyday working lives.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, Amazon’s vice president of Alexa reportedly confirmed that there are 10,000 Amazon employees working on Alexa and the Echo. This follows the launch of Amazon Alexa Business which lets companies build out their own skills and integrations for both practical and business use cases.

An industry concern that may block the growth that DVA promises – in home and business – is trust. Accenture’s research found that 41 per cent of smart speaker owners say they have privacy concerns ('who is listening?') and 40 per cent have security concerns ('how is my data used?').

Consumers believe they have less control over their personal data with a DVA provider than with other providers of digital services and much less control than they do with, for example, banks.

Misuse of data could compromise privacy or individual rights, prompt incorrect decisions or a misapplication of skills and, ultimately, drive a very consequential loss of employee trust in the organisation, according to Accenture’s recently released report Decoding Organizational DNA.

When introducing DVAs to the workplace, employees will need to know exactly what the parameters are of how they can store, use and share data.

Without a doubt, voice activated technology is game-changing and has the potential to become embedded in our everyday work life, irrespective of the industry we work in.

However, the technology is still relatively immature and needs to evolve. We must cut through the marketing hype and scale and solve problems in a way that helps grow, not hinder the technology.

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Ben Morgan is managing director, Accenture Interactive New Zealand

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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