What’s Your Enterprise Strategy for Voice Applications?

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There are more than 100 million smart speakers in the United States, and 1 billion smartphones with voice assistants globally. These numbers definitely point to impressive growth and rapid adoption in a short time frame. But they also raise an important question—if smart speakers and assistants are going to be ubiquitous, isn’t it time your organization crafted a strategy for voice applications? Let’s look at the considerations involved in developing your enterprise strategy for voice applications.

At the outset, let’s recognize that any such strategy has to be twofold. You can broadly think of voice applications as external-oriented (customer facing) or internal-oriented (employee facing). The goals, use cases, challenges, and issues are different for external and internal applications; accordingly, your approach has to be different.

Consumer Applications

Just think about how you or your friends and family are using smart speakers. Most likely, it is for very simple tasks—playing music, weather updates, reminders, etc. Why is that so? Because, while advances in machine learning may have moved the needle on accurately recognizing speech, it takes more than that to deliver functionally rich applications. For example, building context awareness and interaction history for voice applications is not a trivial task.

This actually reminds us that despite much hype, we are still in the early stages for voice interfaces. But you don’t have to be on the sidelines and wait for such advanced capabilities to be available. Simple tasks or informational apps can complement your existing web properties and mobile apps. Think of the voice app as the wingman for the web app. As more consumers adopt voice as a search-and-discovery mechanism for commerce, early adopters have an opportunity to gain mindshare and brand loyalty.

While we’re on the topic of marketing, in addition to building your voice apps, explore emerging opportunities for reaching your target audiences via podcasts and publishers of content-/news-oriented voice apps. If you are grappling with “If you build it, will they come?” for your in-house voice apps—skill/app discovery is already an issue with app stores—using popular third-party publishers can mitigate that risk.

At any rate, it’s clear that we live in a world of omnichannel consumers, and so your omnichannel marketing/commerce strategy should include voice applications.

Business Applications

Let’s turn our attention to internal-facing business apps. Niche voice applications that provide hands-free experiences for employees working in locations where it is not possible to use traditional graphical user interfaces (GUIs) are out of the scope of this discussion. Our focus here is on productivity and collaboration apps—like, for example, employee virtual assistants.

You may think that internal business apps are much simpler compared to consumer apps because the end-user environment is (at least in theory) better known and understood. But these apps present their own set of challenges. For example, consider user authentication. In a corporate environment, access to business applications and data within those applications is based on your job role, and usually password-based authentication and role-based access controls take care of this in enterprise applications. But user authentication employing voice is still an emerging area and it needs to be integrated with existing identity management systems.

Standalone business voice apps are not really that useful; their real power comes from integration with existing enterprise applications, and that can be resource-intensive and time-consuming. Look for narrow applications that expose a small set of functionalities of an enterprise system but have the potential to reduce tedium for employees. The increasing roster of prebuilt integrations with leading enterprise applications can help spur the usefulness and usage of business voice apps. Understand how you can roll out, administer, and manage voice apps for your employees, who may be in multiple locations. Voice apps can definitely play a role in enhancing the employee experience and increasing employee satisfaction with their digital workplace.

In 2019, the speakers may be smart but the applications are still simplistic. The approach outlined here helps you navigate the rapidly evolving voice applications space and helps you arrive at a strategy that works best for your organization. 

Kashyap Kompella is the CEO of rpa2ai, a global AI industry analyst firm, and is also a contributing analyst at Real Story Group.

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