The Future of Work in an Age of Virtual Assistants

Automation has long been one of the world’s most transformative forces and its impact only promises to accelerate. During the industrial revolution, engineers designed machines to automate physical tasks and completely reinvented agriculture and production in the process. Then computers came along to automate transactional tasks, which sent ripples of disruption into just about every industry. Today, a new generation of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered virtual agents are automating cognitive tasks and the effects promise to be just as monumental. Here are three big ways that enterprise-grade virtual assistants will (re)define how humans work.

The Semantic Revolution

Consumer-grade virtual assistants (e.g. Siri, Alexa or the Google Assistant) have revolutionized the way that people engage with technology in their personal lives, but AI is also transforming the way employees interact with technology at work.

Enterprises around the world are increasingly “hiring” digital colleagues like IPsoft’s Amelia to automate the front end of their digital systems. Virtual assistants allow people to engage with technology through the medium most comfortable to them: conversation. Semantic UXs empower all users to use a system, regardless of technical know-how. For example, on the consumer side, even if a user had never used a music streaming service before, they can tell ask their Echo, “Alexa, play some 80s music.” Similarly, semantic interfaces open access to enterprise services.

With AI, employees will not need to be trained to use a company’s shared or IT service systems — they will simply tell the virtual assistant do it. For example, an employee who needs to replace a broken laptop won’t need to navigate an unfamiliar IT ticketing system, they will just tell the virtual assistant, “My laptop is completely broken, can you order me a new one?” The virtual assistant will parse the user intent and independently issue the ticket to the relevant department. This open functionality can be applied to any business area, and thus make enterprise services (everything from HR to accounting to facilities) open to any employee on day one.

No More Busywork

AI excels at executing regimented processes that previously required a human. For example, as an IT service desk rep, a cognitive agent like Amelia assists users 24/7 with various types of low-level requests (e.g. password resets, guest Wi-Fi access, ticket status, etc.). These low-value requests can account for up to a third of IT workload according to a report from Quocirca and IPsoft, however they are easily automated by a cognitive agent.

While this next level of automation might frighten many human IT workers, it should actually be a source of hope for a more rewarding work day. When AI automates routine (and frankly boring) tasks, human workers are freed to address complex or unique tasks, which will make their jobs more interesting.

A New Emphasis on Uniquely Human skills

As AI eradicates low-level tasks that previously required a human, the labor force will naturally begin to emphasize human skills that can’t be automated.

For example, businesses don’t necessarily value internal IT service agents with exceptional “soft skills” (e.g. empathy, humor, and the unteachable ability to make other people feel comfortable). While these would be nice attributes to have, most companies want IT service agents who can execute routine services.

This doesn’t mean the role of IT worker will go away — quite the opposite. However, when low-level tasks are efficiently automated by machines, businesses will find it in their interest to recruit and secure candidates with additional sets of skills, e.g. workers who excel at explaining technical issues to non-technical staff, applying creative problem solving to existing IT challenges, or are good at negotiating with vendors to secure the best prices on technology.

AI promises to make businesses more productive and efficient, but will also make human roles more rewarding. These new technologies won’t just change human roles; they have the potential to evolve them into something more rewarding.

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Martin Linstrom is the Managing Director for UK and Ireland of IPsoft. With over twenty years’ experience working in the technology industry, Martin is helping drive IPsoft’s mission to connect the world through AI and intelligent systems. He is passionate about transforming both customer and employee experiences for IPsoft’s clients through the implementation of enterprise AI.

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