How Voice Can Become The Enterprise Workflow Tool Of The Future

Ken Sutton — Originally published by Forbes

The sheer number of workflow tools across the enterprise today has become burdensome. As the pandemic has inspired new behaviors and necessitated the adoption of new software, these workflow tools have become even more fragmented. The result is inefficiency: excess time spent tracking down data, communicating across different channels and generally being unable to access the information you need.

A recent survey from FutureLearn noted that 55.8% of respondents said their jobs had become more tech-reliant since the start of the pandemic. On average, workers use four to five different programs during a typical workday. This fragmentation is not new. It’s simply an acceleration of the trends we’ve seen within the enterprise.

Data exists everywhere, across dozens of platforms and tools. Workers today communicate and work across Slack, Zoom, Salesforce, Jira, Box, DocuSign, Google Workspace, Switchboard, Zendesk, AWS, Confluence, Office 365 and any number of other programs. The challenge for teams is knowing where to look for the right data they need. This impacts everything from customer service and sales to product development and overall business strategy.

As the enterprise continues to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data and the tools needed to access and manipulate that data, it has necessarily become heavily invested in automating workflows. This has spawned an entire industry of organizational tools like Asana, ClickUp, Trello, Monday and others.

The next stage of our workplace systems requires an evolution that finally incorporates voice with the same efficiency and ubiquity that it has demonstrated in more mainstream consumer areas. Instead of trying to force new tools and systems to better wrangle data, the enterprise needs to invest more in utilizing our natural means of communication to unlock greater efficiency.

Tooling Up

Voice technology is the ideal tool for workflow efficiency. In fact, data from 2018’s Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report revealed that consumer’s top three use cases for smart speakers were “asking a question,” “listening to a streaming music service” and “checking the weather.” Instead of wasting time doing these on our phones, smart speakers allow people to seamlessly multitask. We can continue making breakfast or getting the kids ready for school. Voice technology is becoming an essential element of the next generation of vehicles, where attention is paramount.

If we extend this kind of thinking to the enterprise workflow, users can ask questions and access the right data without interrupting what they are working on. Voice enables you to do tasks, search and sort without typing or opening and accessing a new program. In short, voice finally offers the enterprise the opportunity to de-silo its workflow.

Rethinking Voice For The Enterprise

A recent study found that, despite significant security fears, 85% of businesses expect to use voice technology in the next year. Unfortunately, major players in the AI voice space are still too focused on completing simple tasks.

If voice assistants are going to truly live up to their potential, they need to meet the human standard. That means you should be able to have a conversation with your voice assistant like you would any colleague.

Voice technology is becoming ubiquitous. The rise of voice assistants from Siri to Alexa have unlocked an entirely new form of engagement, one that is more convenient and responsive. Yet we have to be honest that these technologies have largely plateaued in their effectiveness. It is less a technical problem, though, than a conceptual one driven by technical limitations from which they were developed.

Truly intelligent voice assistants are capable of transforming the enterprise workflow experience. Voice can drastically improve business intelligence and increase efficiencies across the organization. But first, we have to reconceive how we think about deploying voice and build systems that can realize voice’s true potential as an interface and workflow tool.

Real Talk

Voice technology can be a revolutionary workflow tool for the enterprise, but there are numerous challenges that need to be overcome first. Businesses move at the speed of data. Ingesting, retrieving, extracting—teams need data fast. A study from Nucleus Research concluded that “just as radioactive matter diminishes in volume over time, the value of data diminishes over time.” They found that tactical data—i.e., the data that companies use to influence their processes—diminishes in values in as little as 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, voice technology isn’t yet nuanced enough to handle complex requests or deal with ambiguity. For example, you can’t ask your smart speaker or voice assistant, “How much is this?”

If a user suspects that their workflow will be hindered by using voice assistants, or that it would be faster to just do it the old-fashioned way, voice technology is going to continue to be relegated to simple tasks like asking for the weather forecast or playing music from a streaming service.

In order for voice technology to become the interface of the future, leaders in voice AI and voice technology need to come together and address three major concerns:

1. Voice assistants need to move beyond “call and response” and become more conversational.

2. Voice technology needs to be real-world-ready, dynamic sound environments without fear of breaking.

3. Voice technology must be able to extract metadata and understand things like nuance, emotion, intent and more.

Companies often test their voice technology with synthetic sound environments. They develop environmental sound profiles to replicate the sound environments of users in their own real-world environment. Real-world situations, however, are dynamic. You might get a profile that matches the start of an interaction, but the environment inevitably changes or new variables enter the equation. Think about a person talking on their cell phone suddenly walking into the room. The technology can’t perform in the myriad edge cases that occur in everyday life.

When it comes to voice technology, there are no universal standards with respect to how the voice tech is tested. The voice tech industry needs to push for rigorous standards in both testing and performance. Until then, businesses will continue to do things the old-fashioned way.