Virtual Assistants (VA) or Virtual Personal Assistants (VPA) can improve the productivity of business processes considerably. A VA is like a digital secretary, which enables the users to communicate with all sorts of applications in a natural and “human way”. A VA can prioritize tasks, learn to fulfill routine tasks, and can ensure the user that nothing important will be overlooked.

Cortana is an example how Microsoft provides the VA-concept to the end users. The progress regarding their capabilities and the priority, which Microsoft grants to Cortana within Windows 10, underlines its importance from Microsoft’s perspective. Another example from Microsoft is the conversational bot, which understands commands in natural language. With the existing platforms and infrastructures, a coherent operation through different devices will be enabled. But also other companies, like Amazon with Alexa or Apple with Siri push forward successfully the development in this field with big teams and budgets.

In the following video, you will find a simple example for a chatbot from the field of Digital Workplace.

With a bot, you can communicate immediately, easily, and without the need to install a new app. No investment in hardware, software or infrastructure is necessary, the bot must only be added as new contact in the existent messaging software such as Skype. This makes bots easy and intuitive to use. A perfect bot implementation is characterized by the fact that the user does not even notice that he is not communicating with a human, but with a bot “only”.

Bots are developing rapidly

As a simple example let us assume that a user finds in his mailbox a series of invoices, which he can either approve, reject or postpone to a later date. In order to be able to take this decision he usually needs context information, such as: Has the service been already delivered? Was the quality okay? Who did receive the service? etc. If a bot was trained accordingly, the user can ask the bot about it. He receives the desired context information directly from the bot as an answer, and then he can approve, reject or postpone the transaction directly in his messaging software.

How do chatbots work?

The basic principle of chatbots is simple: they extract a so-called entity and the related intention from the input message. This is then analyzed, in order to be able to conclude the actions to be taken and to connect them with the correct data source. Chatbots execute the necessary request and show to the user the information in a simple and user-friendly way. Furthermore, a chatbot can learn from the processed requests, so that it is able to make relevant proposals and recommendations similar to the auto-completion function.

Of course, a bot cannot answer “all” possible questions, and for this reason you should analyze in a specific application which questions can be really answered by a bot and which cannot. In general, the closer the questions are related to a process or a topic and the more structured the questions are, the easier a bot can be trained. The more different data are provided for its training, the more powerful a bot will be. Accordingly, the number of questions which a bot can answer correctly will also increase.

What can bots do in the future?

The VAs will modify the classic, e-mail driven way of working at the workplace; they will be at the center of a new, modern and innovative digital way of working. The communication between the company and their clients will change as well: today consumers want to communicate in the same way in natural language when they communicate with companies – similar to those available to them in their personal life. An analysis of Gartner forecasts that until 2020 virtual assistants will be involved in half of all smartphone interactions. They will be the next revolution as part of the digitalization, somehow similar to the search engine, which Google introduced in 1998. They will become thus an integral part of our life and raise the communication between human and machine to a completely new level.

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