Cisco Spark virtual assistant

Cisco Moves Virtual Assistant into The Office

Well it was due to happen. First we had Siri and Cortana on our phones and PCs, then Alexa invaded our homes and now Cisco is pushing their Spark Assistant into offices and I’m kind of surprised why it took so long. We are about to be up to our armpits in digital assistants, but that isn’t a terrible thing. You see—up until now—we have largely been forced to learn how to communicate with the computers and systems we interface with. But what digital assistants do is they start to bring these systems back towards us. In short, this is the beginning of machines learning how to work with us.

I think you could argue that having to learn how to work with someone else puts them in a superior position, the same goes for machines. This past practice kind of made us their servants, where it should have always been the other way around—or, at least more of a peer relationship.

This is a major step into creating far better human/machine interfaces and a major step toward a far higher level of efficiency and customer satisfaction with the products we will interface tomorrow.

Let’s chat about that this week.

Cisco’s Survey

In preparation for this launch—and likely as a part of creating this offering in the first place—Cisco did a large survey across 10 countries. This was a 52-question survey looking at what made people unhappy or unsatisfied with the way they were collaborating with each other and interacting with the systems designed to help them collaborate.

Cisco Spark virtual assistant
Image credit Cisco

It should be no surprise that 94 percent of the sample said they hated meetings. (I’m kind of surprised it wasn’t 99.99 percent of people and would like to talk to that likely delusional 6 percent). Now with all that non-love it is amazing that over 45 percent of the respondents said they spent over 50 percent of their time in these hated meetings. Now the reason that folks typically hate meetings is that they don’t see it as an effective use of their time–the biggest a-hole in the meeting dominates it, and even the concept of progress is elusive.

But the survey also showed that virtual assistants and AI (artificial intelligence) were believable solutions against these problems. Even having them just take notes, type up documents, manage emails, or schedule follow up meetings would be a huge help. These respondents felt their productivity—if they got a viable and effective AI virtual assistant—would improve their productivity by 57 percent. (Personally, I think this is massively understated and that this will be proven in production largely because, so much is lost due to unnecessary distractions and the lack of any consistency or rigor in most note taking).

There is no surprise that at least 60 percent of the respondents suggested they wanted AIs to do the drudge work. Once again, I was struck by how low this number was. Typically, when it comes to “drudge work” 100 percent of respondents want someone, or something, else to do it. The lower response could be because many of these systems so far have often created more work. This suggests a perception that will need to be created by the vendors in this space as these systems have improved significantly and the 60 percent may relate to those that have seen this versus those that have not.

One very interesting result was that 9 out of 10 people thought the idea of an AI virtual assistant managing the meeting was a great idea. I think this comes down to the “a-hole in the room” problem and the unwillingness of folks to call him or her (who am I kidding, it is almost always a guy) and having an AI do it would provide them with not only relief but a certain amount of enjoyment.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that the most excited folks were people who also planned to buy an iPhone X—suggesting that this technology is particularly interesting to those who aggressively move to recent technologies—the “early adopters”. Oh, and Star Trek and Star Wars fans were positively differentiated in this fashion as well suggesting that a lot of these AIs may find themselves with voices from those movies.

Wrapping Up

We are about to be up to our necks in AI-driven virtual assistants. We’ll have them on our phones, in our cars and homes, and now in our businesses. The most important—from the standpoint of our income and job satisfaction—will be the virtual assistants that come into our offices. Cisco is making that happen and—based on this survey, and my own experience—this could have a major impact on the quality and productivity connected with that life. Of course, personally, I’m just waiting for the time when the AI tells that meeting a-hole to shut the …. up. Now that is a feature I’d pay extra for!

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