AI assistants head to the office

A report by US-based IT professional network Spiceworks has revealed the rise of digital assistants in the workplace.


A report by US-based IT professional network Spiceworks has revealed the rise of digital assistants in the workplace.

Artificial intelligent (AI) chatbots and voice-activated devices are becoming more commonplace in homes, smartphones and even in the cars, so it’s inevitable that this budding technology is gaining traction in the office too.

Chatbots are already used by organisations to respond to customer requests and resolve common problems without the need for human interaction. On a larger scale, smart systems are now also being implemented to autonomously fulfil orders and arrange deliveries.

Meanwhile, smartphone users are able to use built-in digital assistants to set up events, dictate emails and even switch on other devices to help ease their workload.

To build a better picture of this trend, Spiceworks surveyed more than 500 IT professionals across North America and Europe to investigate how chatbots and intelligent assistants are being used in the working environment.

Integrated chatbots

Spiceworks found that 40% of large business expect to implement this technology by 2019, while 24% have already implemented one or more AI chatbot or intelligent assistant for work-related tasks.

Among SMBs, which often do not have the resources to pursue emerging technologies, around 15% of organisations have installed it on corporate-owned devices, while 10% plan to do so in the next 12 months.

Despite the prevalence of Amazon’s Alexa in the home, the report found that Microsoft’s Cortana was the most popular digital assistant in the workplace, with 49% of those using the technology opting for the software which is already integrated into Windows 10. However, Apple’s Siri – which is integrated into iOS and macOS ­– followed closely behind with 47% and the Google Assistant was third at 23%. Alexa is bottom of the pile at 13%, in spite of its popularity with consumers.

But developers of operating systems are not the only ones rolling out the technology, programmes such as Microsoft Teams and Slack now offer their own integrated AI chatbots, used by 14% of those surveyed.

Brain power

With so many on offer, only 2% of companies are investing in custom alternatives, but as the technology improves more are expected to explore the option of developing their own, with 10% planning to implement a tailored AI system in the next year.

By far the most common task assigned to voice assistants in the workplace is typing with voice dictation, chosen by 46% of respondents using the technology.

Meanwhile, 26% were using it for team collaboration and 24% for employee calendar management. 14% had utilised it for customer service purposes and 13% for IT help desk management tasks.

Most experts, however, think the biggest benefit for any organisation and its staff will be the ability to delegate mundane and time-consuming jobs to digital assistants, freeing up the human workforce to pursue more creative and rewarding tasks. The ‘brain power’ of AI also allows it to rapidly process and analyse vast amounts of data, outperforming its biological colleagues in that respect.

Not for everyone

But chatbots are not perfect. As novel as the technology may seem, companies still see room for improvement. 59% of respondents said their assistants often misunderstood the nuances of human dialogue, while 30% said it frequently executed inaccurate commands. Another 29% reported difficulty understanding accents. Crucially, 23% said their devices are often unable to distinguish its owner’s voice from co-workers, proving to be a problem in crowded offices.

The survey also asked the 70% of respondents who had yet to adopt the technology to explain their reasons. Among these businesses, 50% said there was currently a lack of use cases, while 29% cited security and privacy concerns. 25% said the cost was off-putting and 19% said they were concerned the devices would be detrimental to user productivity.

Overall, 60% of organisations are not planning to invest in the technology any time soon.

Spiceworks Senior Technology Analyst Peter Tsai, who conducted the research, commented: “While AI has the potential to alter our lives dramatically, the technology is still in its infancy. Adoption is clearly on the rise, but we don’t yet have more advanced forms of AI such as fully functioning self-driving cars, robot butlers, or even computers that can pass the Turing test. That day might come one day in the near future, but many IT pros think it will still take a little while for it to live up to its full promise.”

Access the full report

Austin (TX), USA