Alexa, start BrightHR … and tell me everything I want to know about my business
Voice technology is starting to take off in the home. But what does the future hold for the smart office? We’ve been exploring the possibilities.
Imagine asking your computer ‘tell me everything I need to know about my business’ and getting back all the relevant information you need. This is BrightHR’s plan for the future and we have been making steps to integrate our software with voice technologies such as Alexa. In this blog Stacey Birkett, BrightHR’s Commercial Strategy Manager, explains why she set out a vision to build a voice system for our customers and explains why voice technology will become ever more important.
As you would expect from a technology company, we currently support customers via web and mobile apps. These are becoming ‘traditional’ technologies as the popularity of smartphone usage increases. Technology is constantly evolving and we have to always ask ourselves; what experiences will benefit our customers and make their lives easier? One technology that shakes up the ‘traditional’ user experience is voice. So we decided to explore it.
The big technology players have really embraced voice communication and each is working on their own solution. Mobile voice assistants such as Okay Google, Siri and Cortana have been in people's pockets for a while now, using mobile phone hardware as the gateway to customers. More recently, the likes of Amazon, Google, and Apple have invested in developing specific hardware units to lead the ‘voice first’ approach in the home.
Amazon’s Alexa (initial release date 2014) has started to gain mainstream interest use and the number of devices purchased is rising:
“16.1 million Amazon Echo and 5.9 million Google Home were sold through the end of May 2017 and in use today. The addition of new form factors such as the Amazon Echo Show, Echo Look and Dash Wand along with new entrants such as Apple, Microsoft and Samsung should accelerate growth in the second half of 2017. Everyone seems to have underestimated consumer interest in voice assistants.” - Voicebot
The increase in the voice trend is expected to grow:
‘Gartner predicts that 75% of US households will have smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home by 2020 according to Inside Radio.’ - Gartner
Until Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, and others enter the market, Alexa and Google have an opportunity to capture as much market share as possible. At present, the majority of the Alexa marketing focus has been on use in the home; encouraging individuals and families to use voice to gain control over their homes and all of their connected devices. Typical ‘tasks’ users have tried include; set a timer, play a song, and read the news.
Here at BrightHR we have taken the home concept and adapted it to the office environment by considering the uses for managers within the workplace.
Imagine you’re sat at your desk adding the final touches to your 9am presentation. You remember that you have a follow up meeting next month and need Jamie to be there with you. There’s no need to stop typing, you can just power up BrightHR via Alexa and ask the question: Is Jamie Grey working on 25th September?
There’s also no need to switch to your browser or open your app either. You can keep working while you ask Alexa (or any other voice device for that matter). You see, this isn’t really about Alexa at all, it is about any voice device. At the heart of this is the drive to reduce mental effort and cognitive load. Voice is a much more natural way to interact and if we continue to see voice technologies develop further this is likely to transform the way we interact. The interface, as we know it will be removed and a more streamlined experience will come to life.
This desire to reduce our energy spent on interfaces is not a new concept. In fact, Donald Norman said two decades ago:
‘The real problem with the interface is that it is an interface. Interfaces get in the way. I don’t want to focus my energies on an interface. I want to focus on the job…I don’t want to think of myself as using a computer, I want to think of myself as doing my job.’ - Donald Norman
Helping people to do their job more efficiently and without the faff, has been a real motivator for exploring how we can help use voice as a form of interaction for our customers. To make this vision a reality we adopted Service Design to shape our approach. There are many definitions but the one that we like the most is:
The activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers. The purpose of service design methodologies is to design according to the needs of customers or participants, so that the service is user-friendly, competitive and relevant to the customers. - Service Design Network
Using this approach and our passion to develop the best experiences for our customers is what makes us smile. We’ve started with absence, but we have a lot more up our sleeve so watch this space.
And for our techie readers, keep your eyes open for run down on building a voice skill. Dave Sellars, our Head of Innovation has shared some of these challenges in his recent blog.