This blog is part of our ongoing series, IPsoft’s 2019 AI Trends, detailing what we believe will be the dominant developments and movements in the Enterprise AI market next year. These blogs will be published regularly through the end of the year.

My business laptop is currently running seven programs, including my web browser, which is itself powering five applications. During the course of a year, I use more than 30 applications for work, including Human Resources (HR), productivity, communications and expense management apps. When you factor in the seemingly infinite number of apps I use for my personal life, just managing my interactions with technology is a full-time job. Usernames, passwords, effective navigation—each application has its own unique characteristics that require specific knowledge and skills.

Fortunately, beginning in 2019, business users will begin to see a dramatic change in how they use technology, driven primarily by cognitive interfaces that simplify, automate and consolidate application usage. This will usher in The Age of the Employee, during which enterprises will be driven to enable these AI-focused technologies for their internal stakeholders, just as they look to implement AI to improve external customer experiences, in order to impact productivity and ultimately company growth. Companies will begin to realize that AI can unlock employee potential like never before, and play a vital role in re-energizing their corporate culture.

Thanks to open APIs and custom-built integrations, many of the most popular business tools are capable of interfacing directly with one another. There is an open sharing of data and the ability to run automatic processes between systems, which cuts down on how much data entry humans are required to perform. In simple terms: When you create an account on an e-commerce site, the site automatically triggers an email marketing tool to send you a welcome message. Without integrations and automations, your registration would sit in a spreadsheet until an employee physically transfers your name into an email tool. The employee would then manually create a mass welcome message for all new users. A relatively simple integration between systems allows for an automation that saves human workers hours of labor each week.

Workers today use disconnected tools to handle different business processes. To file expense reports, employees open System A. To take a day off, open System B. To register a new prospect, access System C, and so forth. When all of these tools are integrated end-to-end via cognitive AI and autonomic-based tools, employees are capable of orchestrating processes across different line-of-business tools—all via spoken commands.

Simple Business Processes Conducted Through Cognitive AI

Beginning in 2019, cognitive and autonomic systems will enable employees to sit down at their desks, summon a digital colleague, and speak a phrase or sentence in order to perform a task or locate information.

Employee: Has expense report 275 been processed?
Digital Colleague: It was processed yesterday. You should receive your reimbursement within two business days.
Employee: Great. One other thing, I would like to take PTO on August 15, 16, and 17.
Digital Colleague: August 17 is a Saturday. Would you like me to request PTO for August 15 and 16?
Employee: Yes, thank you.

In the described scenario, the employee does not need to:

  • Open an application.
  • Enter credentials.
  • Tab to the right page inside a corporate system.
  • Open a long drop-down menu.
  • Wait for pages to load.

Instead, the employee simply speaks and the cognitive and autonomic technology that holds all of the solutions together performs the task for the employee. Unlike virtual assistants that respond in standard call-and-response, Q&A-style conversation, the digital colleagues will be able to hold a conversation, correct humans when necessary and even use their own intelligence to help humans make more informed decisions. For example: Today’s virtual assistants would have had trouble recognizing that August 17 was a Saturday. Instead of correcting the employee, the virtual assistant most likely would have logged a PTO day for the employee unnecessarily. Cognitive AI-based digital colleagues are able to use their intelligence to avoid these errors.

Cognitive AI Working Across the Enterprise

Most of us file expense reports regularly. Even with the most user-friendly expense management software, opening the system, uploading images, filing the images to proper expense codes and receiving final approval can take hours or more likely days. A digital colleague has a firm handle on how business processes are conducted, and can perform these complex processes with limited manual effort and at a much faster pace.

Employee: Please file the following receipts as a new expense reimbursement claim.
Digital Colleague: There are four images attached. Under which code or codes would you like the expenses processed?
Employee: Please process numbers one, two and four under dining. Please process number three as ground transportation. (If an employee is using a chat interface, Amelia can present a list of uploaded expenses and ask the user to match them to the appropriate codes.)
Digital Colleague: Of course. Can you tell provide me with a title for this expense report?
Employee: Client meeting in Las Vegas.
Digital Colleague: Thank you, I’ll alert your manager now.

In the above example, the digital colleague understands how an expense management tool works, can receive and process images, and can communicate with a third party to move the expense approval process forward. All the employee needs to do is snap a photo of the receipt and the heavy lifting is shifted from the employee to the digital colleague.

Integration and Automation Will Be A Game-Changer

Employees will experience the most important benefits of cognitive and autonomic solutions when working between systems to perform multi-step processes. Starting in 2019, we’ll be closer than ever to the following scenario:

A major client calls a salesperson’s desk phone, but the salesperson is in transit to another meeting. The digital colleague logs the call in the CRM system, and sends a text message to the salesperson on her smartphone. The salesperson sees the notification but doesn’t want to speak with client while in transit, fearing the call will get dropped. Instead, the salesperson dictates an email to a digital colleague who saves a draft. The salesperson then asks the digital colleague to find open slots on her calendar and offer those times to the client in the drafted email. The salesperson reviews the message in a chat window and asks the digital colleague to send it, at which point the message is logged in the CRM system.

When the client responds to the email with a preferred time to talk, the digital colleague sends a text to the salesperson, who can then direct the cognitive AI to create a calendar invitation with a conference bridge, and send an email to all parties involved.

In essence, the digital colleague is working within the following systems and technologies to manage a single interaction:

  • VoIP (Voice-over-Internet-Protocol)
  • Email
  • Scheduling
  • CRM
  • SMS

The salesperson never has to open anything other than her smartphone’s voice and/or chat app in order to initiate all of these processes.

By the end of next year, The Age of the Employee will be firmly rooted throughout various industries, with digital colleagues conducting similar complex tasks across multiple systems as the ones described here. This level of dexterity will bring simplicity and speed to a workforce that until now has been hampered by complexity and inertia.

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