Is your digital employee experience platform ready for voice search?

Published Tue 16 Oct 2018

According to ComScore, 50% of all searches will be made by voice by 2020 - a date that’s rapidly approaching. We’re already seeing the effects this already - 20% of US adults now have access to a speaker with a smart assistant and retailers are already starting to make sure consumers can make purchases using voice alone.

This trend isn’t going to stop and can’t be ignored - in only a couple of years people will likely expect to at least have the option of using their voice to find information. Just as with other consumer-originated trends, like mobile-friendly design and the easy availability of apps, intranets and enterprise software will not be insulated from this. Enterprise adoption, and attempts at adoption, are likely to grow very quickly), according to Raúl Castañón-Martinez, Senior Analyst at 451 Research, as consumers get accustomed to using voice commands.

Can speech recognition work for business apps?

Whilst voice commands are starting to see broad adoption by consumers, a high degree of accuracy is essential for any kind of adoption in the digital workplace. As Castañón-Martinez told TechTarget, 80% accuracy might be acceptable for a consumer voice app but enterprise voice deployments will require “at least 95% accuracy or better.”

Consumers might put up with the occasional inaccuracy as an annoyance, but enterprise users are unlikely to be so forgiving when a digital assistant for your intranet misinterprets you and starts to book PTO for you, when you just wanted to see many days you get a year. Mistakes for business-critical functions, like logistics and fulfillment, could even start to cause serious business costs.

Both the devices and software needed for enterprise voice search have improved rapidly in recent years, with Dan Miller of Opus Research commenting to SpeechTechMag that speech to text conversion accuracy has now reached 95%. This is in large part thanks to significant investment from Amazon, Google and Microsoft, who have opened access to high-quality speech recognition APIs so that business app developers don’t have to start from scratch when implementing voice features.

Challenges for voice search in the enterprise

This doesn’t mean that it’s all plain sailing from here for enterprise. The tools exist for implementing voice search and commands but very few organizations have actually deployed conversational interfaces for their business apps - less than 4% according to Gartner’s 2018 CIO Survey. However, the same survey found that 38% of organizations are planning to implement it, but the focus is currently on implementing voice search in individual applications.

This could be a problem. If each business app vendor, or each organization, uses a different API for each app or implementing a different voice search and command experience in each one, they could end up with a fragmented, frustrating voice search experience.

The question is, how do you make this work?

1. Unify access to business apps

Customers generally have a single point of entry for voice search - a digital assistant. Whether you use Google Assistant, Alexa, Siri or Cortana, there’s only one digital assistant for everything you connect to it. It doesn’t matter if you’re ordering an Uber, adding dishwasher tablets to your shopping list or checking the weather forecast, the digital assistant you’re using is the same, and so is the User Experience.

Businesses need to take the same approach and unify business apps into a single enterprise digital assistant that employee can use in the same way they’d use a commercial digital assistant. Given the number of apps used by businesses of all sizes - for email, collaboration, CRM, ERP and others - both in the cloud and on-premise, this is a challenge, but it is possible now.

Business app APIs can be aggregated into one central unified API that can handle all search requires, securely pushing and pulling information the original sources in real-time. This integration-focused approached also has significant advantages beyond voice search - imagine if you can embed the same digital assistant into your intranet or SharePoint to enable searching across all business apps from there. Taking away the need for employees to use different voice interfaces in multiple apps, and instead presenting a unified experience even has the potential to save as much $5,700 per employee per year, by slashing productivity waste.

2. Provide a borderless experience

Just as voice search can’t be something that’s restricted to particular apps, it cannot be something that’s only usable on certain devices. Whilst adding voice search to mobile apps and smart devices may feel like the most natural approach given that we’re already used to talking to smart assistants on mobile devices, once employees start getting used to using voice search they’re likely to want to be able to use it on other devices.

Again, integrating a smart assistant into your digital employee experience platform can help here. If it works across all devices, as well as all apps, it can provide a seamless ambient user experience across all aspects of your enterprise ecosystem. It won’t matter if you’re in the gym with your phone, at your desk working in the browser or in your car on the way to a meeting, because you’ll be able to use your voice to make the exact same searches or carry out the exact same commands.

3. Embrace smart devices for the smart office

Smart devices at home have so far been a key driver in both the adoption of voice search and digital assistants, and consumer are sticking with them. According to a study by NPR and Edison Research, smart speaker adoption is outpacing smartphone adoption and 65% of those respondents said they didn’t want to go back to life before these devices.

This demand for smart devices is spreading over into the office, with TechRepublic’s Smart Office Tech Trends survey finding that 48% of office workers would be interested in using smart assistant-enabled devices in the office. Ensuring that these devices meet expectations can be an issue - the same survey found that 35% of people who’d used them were not impressed. However, Amazon Alexa for Business skills already exist which allow access to enterprise digital assistant at work, letting employee take the same kind of voice actions through smart speakers as they can through their phones, tablets and computers. Scheduling a team meeting or a training session at work can be made as easy as getting Alexa to play a song at home .

The exact impact of voice search isn’t yet known, but it has the potential to revolutionize the way we work by making information easier to find and by providing a new, intuitive, way of getting work done.

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