Office productivity suites have been a facet of the modern enterprise for so long that it’s hard to see how they can contribute any more to the business process. But the newest wave of solutions appears poised to launch another generational shift in the business world in the form of intelligent processes and smart digital assistants.
Both Google and Microsoft are leading this charge with new AI-driven features in their search, collaboration and analytics modules. The idea, of course, is to take even more of the rote functions of modern knowledge work away from actual workers so they can focus on the more creative aspects of their jobs. At the same time, new voice-driven applications and assistants will hopefully reduce all of that typing and clicking in favor of a more conversational style of human-computer interaction.
Google, for example, is rolling out new services at higher education facilities, sticking with the time-honored tradition of unveiling new technologies on younger minds who will then come to expect them in the working world. At Saint Louis University, the company is rolling out Echo Dot virtual assistant technology to campus housing, giving students the ability to find answers to standard questions like “When does the library open?” or “How do I get to the physics lab?”. At the same time, the company is looking to introduce similar technologies in the classroom and in administrative offices to streamline communications, conferencing, and a host of other functions.
All of this harkens back to the earlier days of office productivity when companies like Microsoft attempted to buttress their solutions with rudimentary assist-bots, says Quartz’ Oliver Staley. Remember Clippy? The annoying little paperclip would pop up at every new document or spreadsheet offering help with basic tasks like letter-writing or sending an email. Microsoft finally shelved Clippy in 2001 after a good five years of negative feedback from users, but now it seems ready to try again with a new generation of technology.
The key difference this time is that the new assistants are intelligent, so they will actually learn what you know and don’t know to provide more targeted help toward greater productivity. A case in point is MyAnalytics, a recent addition to Office 365 that keeps track of time spent on given tasks, followed by “nudges” to help workers better organize their days. This can range from warnings about sending emails to co-workers in time zones that are after hours to scheduling time in between meetings for “focus work.”
This may sound a little onerous to some, but Microsoft says it has built in a number of features designed to conform to individuals workers’ styles. If you don’t engage with the nudges, for example, the system will just leave you alone. Or you can turn if off completely, provided the boss is OK with it.
Intelligence in the office will arrive in numerous ways beyond talking software, and much of it will function behind the scenes in the form of data analytics, resource management and improved connectivity. Ideally, this will allow individuals to craft their workspaces around their needs and without having to rely on IT or communications specialists to set them up.
All of this may seem strange at first, but then again, many people reacted with trepidation when the first PC showed up on their desk in the 1980s. Ultimately, however, man and machine will reach some form of equilibrium as both learn from each other how best to get the job done.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.