Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed the rapid increase of artificial intelligent agents and bots in the consumer space (Hi, Alexa) — but now enterprises are effectively leveraging those same capabilities. Welcome to the future of work! Are you ready?
Personal Productivity: AI and Machine Learning Go Mainstream
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have the potential to help employees be more productive.
Recent updates to popular applications, like Microsoft Office, heavily incorporate AI and ML-driven capabilities. For the avid Microsoft Office user, these are very welcome additions. I’ve personally been using the "Design Ideas" feature in PowerPoint for the last year, and it’s saved me countless hours. By typing in just a few bullet points, PowerPoint suggests a presentation format specifically tailored to showcase the content I’m including.
For frequent Excel users, you’ll be thrilled to know it’s now able to extract table data from images. Instead of manually building a table from a printed document, you can scan the image and have Excel interpret the data and build a table or graph for you.
Personal productivity in the workplace extends beyond office desktop applications. Tools such as Microsoft MyAnalytics (which is now available to all Microsoft/Office 365 users) provide valuable, data-driven insights into where and how employees spend their time — no more guessing where the hours went! From a macro perspective, it provides important data needed to make informed operational decisions, like when to hire, promote and more.
Group and Team Productivity: Enterprise Collaboration Tools
SharePoint and Yammer were the de facto tools for group-based collaboration and enterprise social media for many years, but no longer. There have been more team-based collaboration tools launched over the last five years than in the previous 15 years combined, and they’re getting more and more powerful. Spearheaded by Slack, persistent enterprise chat has now replaced email as the preferred mode of communication. Chat is changing how organizations view collaboration by bringing context into communication channels, and helping users to stay organized, wherever they’re located.
Even though enterprise chat has seen significant adoption, its full potential has yet to be unleashed. The introduction of bots and virtual agents within chat systems and other collaboration platforms is the next frontier to enabling better productivity.
The Future of Productivity: Bots, Bots and More Bots
Bots are slowly being introduced in the workplace, but they aren’t being widely leveraged. In the next few years, I predict we’ll see a continued rise in artificial intelligence and machine learning elements infused into the tools we use every day.
The Untapped Potential of Bots
Let’s say you need to check a policy in your employee handbook. Five years ago, you’d have no choice but to navigate to your company’s intranet, open a large PDF document, and search until you found what you needed. Today, you can incorporate conversational bot capabilities into your digital workplace, so people can ask the bot policy questions, have the bot scan the handbook, and return with answers.
Organizations can take this one step farther, by programming the bots to take action once it’s retrieved information. For example, if a user inquires about the company’s paid time off (PTO) policy, the bot now has the context to ask whether or not the user needs to submit a PTO request, and can direct them to the correct place to do so. Tools like Azure Q&A Maker make it easy for organizations to create an evolving knowledge base that can be connected to conversational bots, and deployed for many different use cases.
Similarly, bot capabilities can also be leveraged within CRM platforms or similar tools. Aside from improving daily productivity, bots can simplify training processes. Let’s say you’re onboarding a new employee and they are familiarizing themself with your CRM system. They’d likely start by logging in and fumbling around. Once they discover where to accomplish their objective, they can actually build the list, update the record, or do whatever it is that their job requires. Introducing a conversational AI interface would make it possible for users to type a few directions, and deploy bots to interact with back-end systems to accomplish specific objectives.
We're Only Getting Started
AI introduces better, more efficient ways of doing things, while cutting down on time lost on repetitive tasks. Machine learning elements make sure AI systems remain intelligent and continue to learn as users interact with them. As natural language processing (NLP) evolves, the uses cases for AI and ML will only continue to increase.
The most important takeaway? Introduce bots now, so you’ll be able to more easily leverage their full capabilities as technology continues to develop.
About the Author
Daniel Cohen-Dumani is partner and market leader for WithumSmith+Brown P.C.’s Digital Solutions and Services practice. Daniel founded Portal Solutions, an IT consulting firm, and merged it into Withum in May 2017.