Intelligent virtual assistant tools have enabled workers to stay connected and productive during unprecedented times. And, although they have seen an increase in their use over the last year and a half during the pandemic, IVA tools continue to play a role in the business.
IVA tools offer a host of features, such as meeting transcription, translation, scheduling, data entry, and action items, to coordinate communication and workflow across disparate teams. IVA tools can even fill the position once occupied by executive and administrative assistants for employees at all levels, not just those at the top. Conversational AI has become an important IVA feature now in call centers and other areas of customer support. Relying on chatbots, which are not interactive, these tools store information, personalizing customer interactions for better service.
Business use of IVA technology will continue to grow and the market continues to materialize. Industry analysts foresee a future with IVAs as a constant presence in carrying out daily tasks. Many business leaders praise their ability to increase efficiency while reducing workloads – a benefit often promised but less often delivered by emerging technologies.
Market research firm BCC Research forecasts that smart assistants, as a segment of the smart machine market, will grow from $6 billion in 2021 to $26.2 billion in 2026.
Stand-alone product from platform function
IVA tools are available either as standalone products from vendors such as Otter.ai, Hendrix, and Chorus.ai, or as integrated applications with existing platforms such as Zoom, Cisco Webex Assistant, and Microsoft Teams.
While TechTarget has spoken with several business executives who have implemented IVA technology as a standalone platform, analysts predict that the future of IVA will be one component of a larger platform.
“It’s typical for these new technologies to be placed in a vacuum,” said Jon Arnold, principal of J Arnold & Associates. “After a while it becomes mainstream and loses its buzz, becoming just another feature. IVA will become just another feature on the Webex or Teams platform.”
The exceptions will be in highly regulated industries, like government and healthcare, where they will need a standalone platform for security and compliance reasons to better track interactions, Arnold noted. These industries also use specialized language that requires the most accurate speech recognition tools available on a standalone platform.
Irwin Lazar, president and principal analyst at Metrigy, agreed that the standalone IVA market will slowly dissolve over time as the bigger players, like Cisco, Zoom and Microsoft, acquire smaller, niche vendors.
“It just makes more sense to integrate IVA functionality. You’ll end up with vendors like Google offering third-party functionality that you can integrate into their app,” he said. “It will become a main product feature.”
Security is a major concern for deploying IVA
Several business leaders whose companies have implemented IVA technology cite security as their top concern in using IVA, particularly around transcription and translation capabilities, as the tools streamline data to process voice recordings. Security breaches are common occurrences with the shift to remote working and the move away from perimeter-based security, creating more vulnerabilities for attackers to exploit, putting organizations on high alert.
Many security and privacy issues stem from an organization’s data security with the IVA provider, according to Haroon Sethi, CEO of Proqura Technologies, a SaaS-based e-procurement platform.
“Is it sold to third parties? Can it be stolen during transmission? Issues like these will always be present unless a vendor offers on-device processing for transcription and translation,” said he declared.
While many standalone vendors offer extensive functionality, such as two-factor authentication and encryption, data security concerns remain an issue in deploying IVA.
“One of the big areas of concern we’ve heard from IT and security people is what kind of content is generated in meetings and where does it go,” Lazar said. It becomes a question of where the content is stored, who has the ability to access it, how it is encrypted, and who holds the encryption keys. “That’s a concern when using a third-party app,” he added.
IVA relieves tedious tasks for employees
Even with security concerns, IVA tools appeal to organizations’ continued desire to eliminate day-to-day manual tasks, such as transcribing meetings, extracting action items, entering data, and scheduling meetings, which can become distracting and time-consuming. Many business leaders, encouraged by the way IVAs free up employees to focus on more creative and larger work, are now relegating routine tasks entirely to an IVA.
Employees have grown accustomed to, even depended on, similar perks in their lives as consumers who use tools like Cortana, Siri and Alexa to search for contacts, sync calendars and initiate phone calls and texts, Arnold pointed out. . This change in consumer behavior inevitably affects their professional lives.
“Management used to have personal secretaries to handle certain tasks. Now an IVA can do just that,” Arnold added. “Each worker can have their own personal assistant, and that’s quite an attractive thing.”
The typical business today maintains vast collections of records in its systems, which can turn basic tasks, such as locating and retrieving needed files or documents, into a wild goose chase. With an IVA, employees can quickly locate and share files with voice search capabilities. Arnold explained that IVAs allow companies to create their own Google-like search systems based on the corporate intranet just for their employees.
For example, a worker can ask the IVA to find the quarterly report, Arnold said. “Once a document is scanned, it can be searched. And it can be brought to you as text or audio, whatever format you need.”
Along those same lines, IVAs can help employees manage the information overload common in content-heavy roles, according to Ethan Howell, co-owner of Florida Environmental Pest Management.
“Workers can begin to understand that the IVA can to know best based on a study of behavior and historical patterns at that time,” he said. Likewise, reviewing large volumes of complex datasets can logically be delegated to the IVA for its powerful processing capabilities.
IVA Benefits in Meeting Experience
According to a recent Metrigy survey, the most popular IVA features relate to the meeting experience and include capturing and transcribing notes.
“IVA allows people to focus on the meeting without having to say, ‘Sorry, I missed that.’ Meeting distractions don’t matter with a good meeting assistant,” Lazar said. Using IVAs can create more powerful meeting experiences and allow people to focus more on meeting content without having to worry about taking notes.”
Metrigy also found that companies spent an average of 90 minutes planning necessary follow-up meetings and assigning tasks. The great potential for businesses to simply save time is the most compelling benefit of the IVA tools in place, Lazar said.
IVAs can listen to meetings and capture words like task, action item and assignment to then generate an appropriate summary. Many business owners delegate these functions to the IVA itself.
“The most useful IVA feature for my business is the daily transcription and recording of meeting actions,” said Aqsa Tabassam, outreach manager at Apps UK, an online app review resource. “Before setting up a virtual assistant, I always struggled to deploy the right actions to the right people, but it has made my work more fluid.”
Many leaders believe that IVAs have been a game-changer when it comes to communication and collaboration. With the global upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the way of working, IVAs can keep up with workflow changes that demand faster planning and delegation of tasks.
Employee productivity is the main driver behind the rise in popularity of IVAs. With offices uprooted by remote work, employees have had to acclimate to unfamiliar video conferencing tools, hampering productivity, according to several executives.
Business leaders and analysts agree that security risks are not enough of a deterrent to stop the growth of IVAs. “The benefits of automation, speed and scale are too good to ignore,” Arnold said. “It’s easy to see why companies want to go this route.”