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How virtual assistant technology will affect the enterprise

Mobile devices with AI and virtual assistants will affect the enterprise, as well as consumers. Learn how to prep your organization for the future.

As mobile devices include more advanced virtual assistant technology, IT should prepare the enterprise for a new generation of end users.

As mobile apps have become more complex, it has become difficult for end users to navigate the numerous screens and user interfaces. With all of the data available from users' email, social interactions and app data from substantial onboard memory and cloud-based sources, it has also become difficult for users to find and access the data they need when they need it -- especially because much of it is no longer just structured, text-based data.

Today's virtual assistants, such as Siri, do most of their processing in the cloud. But in the next two to three years, virtual assistant technology, via onboard AI processing, will work not only on search engines in the cloud, but also on users' local data.

Local processing on the device will mean much lower latency because data doesn't have to go out over the network and back. On-device processing will also improve privacy; cloud services cannot intercept information because nothing leaves the device.

The future of mobile devices

In the next two to three years, fully voice command-enabled OSes will power mobile devices. Like a concierge service, AI will understand what kind of information is most relevant to users when they need it. Backed by this AI engine, the OS will enable users to use natural language commands and control entire devices rather than just search the web for information. Further, this same intelligence will help users to navigate apps.

In the next two to three years, fully voice command-enabled OSes will power mobile devices.

In the next three to five years, users may not even know which apps they are accessing -- or, in extreme cases, they might not even know which apps they have on their devices. The virtual assistant technology will determine users' needs via machine learning and then simply interact on their behalf with the app they need to complete tasks. This will eliminate the need to launch apps, decide which menus to access or figure out where data is stored.

Virtual assistant technology will dramatically improve users' interactions with their mobile devices by displaying information in a more meaningful way. For example, the virtual assistant could gather data and then give users a real-world view of that information with an augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) interface -- perhaps in a map overlay, in a graphic on top of data or in a virtual simulation of a work process that users need to complete.

The current mobile device market is already showing signs of these features to come. Chips that power high-end mobile devices, such as those from Qualcomm, Huawei and Apple, already include AI capabilities. Mobile devices with AR/VR capabilities are starting to make their way to market, too, although at a premium price and with limited capability.

Gesture and video recognition, or the ability to understand users' needs by reading faces, gestures or unstructured data storage, is starting to appear in a few devices, including those from Apple and Samsung.

Vendors will improve all of these technologies in the next two to three years, and Google and Apple have plans to enhance future OS releases with these capabilities baked in. Apple Siri and Google Voice can already take advantage of some preliminary capabilities, but they are just a taste of what is to come.

How IT should prepare for virtual assistant technology

To prepare for virtual assistant technology in the enterprise, organizations should understand what technology is coming and when. They should work with their vendors to understand plans for devices and the OSes to use.

Next, organizations should investigate how users' needs will change once virtual assistant technology advances and how they should adapt. For example, as voice commands become more integrated and accurate, users may demand that corporate resources accept voice input as an alternative to virtual keyboards on smartphones or pen input on tablets. That may require IT to rearchitect mobile apps to allow voice interaction for both input and output rather than the fixed user interface that they typically use.

Similarly, as gesture controls become available, users will want that type of interface to interact with their work apps.

IT should determine how to get enterprise apps ready for the change and may have to update their app interfaces to enable more modern interaction techniques. The shift to assisted mobility will be as fundamental as the original thrust of mobility. Organizations that try to fight the change won't be successful.

This was last published in August 2018

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