The 2019 State of Intelligent Virtual Assistants

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Intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) are designed to offload mundane tasks from employees and customers. With speech systems becoming better able to respond to various inquiries, use of these tools is increasing. Opus Research forecasts that enterprise spending on the licenses and professional services that support IVAs will increase from $2 billion in 2018 to $5.5 billion by 2021. 

The Year in Review

In the past, users would become frustrated with IVAs because the assistants often hindered rather than helped them. But in 2018, the technology matured. “Intelligent virtual assistant accuracy rates and the quality of the software have improved recently, so businesses are becoming more comfortable using the technology,” says Dan Miller, lead analyst at Opus Research. 

A range of capabilities have emerged. Amazon has been the trendsetter in the commercializing of intelligent virtual assistants. The company focused on consumers but turned its attention to the business community at the end of 2017 when it announced Alexa for Business, a solution geared to improving white collar workers’ productivity. The system helps employees manage tasks such as scheduling appointments and sifting through their messages. The vendor integrated the solution with Microsoft Office 365, Google G Suite, Salesforce, Zoom, and Polycom.

“One reason why intelligent virtual assistants have become popular is vendors found use cases that deliver significant business benefits,” says Miller. For instance, Duo World unveiled Smoothflow, a cloud solution that manages organizational workflows. Smoothflow Automation with AI BOT for the most popular messaging platforms was launched with the objective of creating better conversational flows.

Customer service is one area where virtual assistants are especially thriving. “Businesses recognize that intelligent virtual assistants have tremendous potential to streamline and improve the customer journey,” explains Rakesh Tailor, director of product management for speech at Genesys.

Verint has built a broad self-service suite, including web self-service; knowledge management; intelligent virtual assistant for automated, secure self-service chat interaction; interactive voice response (IVR) for self-service phone/voice interaction; and Verint Community, which enables consumers to get information and technical assistance without speaking to an agent. These solutions have been integrated with Amazon Alexa, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype, Kik, and Twilio.

The vendor worked with partners to help them add voice options to their applications. Alight Solutions, for instance, is a provider of cloud-based benefits administration, human resources, and financial solutions. The company supports more than 19 million individuals working in 1,400 companies and handles 1.4 million phone calls in enrollment periods. Leveraging Verint’s technology, the firm built Lisa, an IVA that handled over 760,000 interactions and cut live chat engagements in the call center by 67% compared to the previous year.

Nuance Communications sells Nina, a system that includes natural language capabilities, machine learning, and analytics. The Office of State Revenue (OSR), part of Queensland Treasury, is using the solution to provide another way for Australian taxpayers to receive information. Relying on Nuance’s natural language understanding, conversational dialogue, and resolution techniques, OSR launched its IVA, called Sam, in February 2018; Sam provides more than 300 tailored responses, with thousands of variations to commonly asked questions in areas like payroll tax, duties and grants, land tax, and mining and petroleum royalties. It also directs taxpayers to relevant information on OSR’s web pages. The IVA has logged more than 5,000 client interactions, and over 71% of the inquiries were resolved on first contact.

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