Not using a chatbot or voice assistant at work? You will be soon


Voice assistants and chatbots are becoming commonplace in the home. Even your grandparents are used to asking Google Home or Echo Dot what the temperature is or, if they really want to go crazy and take it for a spin, what time it is in Anchorage, Alaska!

But how much are intelligent voice assistants and chatbots being used in the workplace today? And how are they being used? A recent survey by IT professional networking and information site Spiceworks shows a large and growing percentage of enterprises are deploying artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots and voice assistants in the workplace.

However, the survey also shows that AI-powered voice assistants and chatbots primarily are used for an employee’s personal convenience, as opposed to enabling the enterprise’s strategic objectives. (Yes, I know, a tool that makes an employee more efficient can help achieve those strategic goals, but that’s arguably not the driving force behind a worker’s use of those tools. Must we go down that road?) They’re also used for low-level customer service functions.

First, the top-line numbers: Nearly one in four (24 percent) large enterprises in North America and Europe are using at least one AI chatbot/voice assistant for work-related purposes, and another 16 percent plan to do so in the next year. That’ll be 40 percent of large organizations (500+ employees) in the next 12 months. While the adoption rate is lower for mid-sized businesses (15 percent current/10 percent planning) and small businesses (11 percent/16 percent), we’re still talking one in four by next year.

Now, it’s not as if everyone at the organizations using AI chatbots/voice assistants is having conversations with algorithms all day. The snapshot provided by the Spiceworks survey shows both the current use cases and user profiles to be somewhat limited. Here are the most common tasks supported by intelligent assistants/chatbots:

  • 46 percent — typing with voice dictation
  • 26 percent — team collaboration
  • 24 percent — employee calendar management
  • 14 percent — email management
  • 14 percent — customer service
  • 13 percent — IT help desk management
  • 10 percent — data analysis

With the exception of data analysis, every item on that list is about improving operational efficiency. Don’t get me wrong: Improved efficiency is always a plus; it can save time and money, increase revenue and free up resources to focus on strategic objectives and plans, new ideas and test labs. But the real transformational stuff on that list is mired under “IT help desk management.”

The survey also shows that more than half (53 percent) of smart chatbots/voice assistants are being used in enterprise IT departments, followed by administrative/business management (23 percent), customer service/support (20 percent), marketing and sales (16 percent each), accounting/finance (9 percent), research and development (7 percent), and human resources (7 percent). Again, the heavy-duty stuff (R&D) is at the bottom.

This will change over time. In fact, 76 percent of the more than 500 IT pros surveyed said they expect AI to “automate mundane tasks, allowing for more time to focus on strategic IT initiatives” — which typically reflect strategic business goals.

If there’s one immediate stumbling block to the accelerated adoption of chatbots/voice assistants in the workplace, it’s a skills deficit. Only 20 percent of survey respondents said their organizations had the skills, talent and resources necessary to implement and support AI-driven technology. That too will change over time, as supply increases to meet demand.

The limitations of existing chatbot/voice assistant technology also may be a barrier to adoption. Spiceworks’ survey shows that among organizations now using intelligent assistants/chatbots, 59 percent say these tools have 1) misunderstood requests and 2) misunderstood the nuances of human dialogue, 30 percent say they’ve executed inaccurate commands, 29 percent say they have had difficulty understanding accents and 23 percent said these tools have been unable to distinguish their “owner’s” voice. (That last one will wreak even more havoc in open offices, which already have been scientifically proven to hurt productivity.)

The barriers to chatbot/voice assistant adoption in the workplace soon will melt away as use cases increase and the benefits of these tools become compellingly obvious. A snapshot of enterprise usage five years from now should look dramatically different than today’s.

Are you or anyone else in your organization using AI-powered voice assistants/chatbots? If so, how are they being used? And are they paying off? Let us know in the comments section below.

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