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Voice assistant gets smarter in business world

Voice assistant gets smarter in business world
Voice control has been a key area of study in the field of home automation. Devices that humans use are getting smaller and smaller in the duration of technology evolution, beginning with desktop, laptop and tablet, then shifting to smartphone and wearable, before reaching the formless voice.

Just as voice control can provide convenience in homes, the technology may provide the similar benefit in offices. As people add automation and voice control experiences into their homes, it’s not uncommon for them to also integrate smart technology and voice control into their offices.

As companies evaluate new kinds of technologies that suit their needs, the office environment has been undergoing a transformation in the last few years, according to home automation enabler Control4’s Senior Director of Product Marketing Brad Hintze.
Brad Hintze, Senior
Director of Product
Marketing at Control4

 “Automation can make security, energy management, and room or building management easier, and we see small and midsize business owners who have Control4 in their home add it to their business property,” Hintze said.

With automation, a single voice command can power multiple rooms at once, to wake them up for a presentation by turning on the lights, lifting the shades and activating displays. “Instead of operating from a touchscreen, voice control makes it easy for users to adjust the room conditions with a command. Voice control can be used to manage automation in office meeting spaces, presentation rooms, lobbies, and more,” said Bill Lally, President of Mode:Green, an integration firm servicing hotels and large commercial spaces.

A/C and meeting control

Voice control in office is still a relatively new concept, and the types of automation more commonly implemented today are for meeting room and air conditioning control. Air conditioning is the largest source of energy consumption. As such, it may be connected to sensors and curtains, working together to save energy use.

Ni Wen-lu, General Manager of automation company AIFA Technology, concurred that air conditioning control is the more common application in the commercial space, for people tend to forget to turn off air conditioners.

In the meeting room, equipment that need to be controlled include projector, video conference equipment, lighting, air conditioner and curtains. Ideally they can all be adjusted with the push of a button, one single voice command or a switch.
Brian Lin, founder and
CTO of Oplus

A voice assistant can start a meeting by moving the curtains and turning on the lights; switch on the presentation mode by turning on a projector and dimming the lights; and enable the discussion mode by turning off all equipment.

“A large meeting room may have up to 16 curtains and multiple sets of lighting. The larger the space, the more equipment there is, and the more possible scenarios there are, and the more likely people will find automation tools handy,” said Brian Lin, founder of Oplus, a Taiwan-based company that specializes in office automation. Also, office managers have budget and security concerns, and they want to be able to manage office equipment easily, Lin said.

Cisco spark assistant

Seeing the demand for easier meeting control, Cisco recently launched Spark Assistant, which is designed specifically for this purpose. It aims to eliminate hassles like locating a meeting room, getting connected to the room, etc. “The right virtual assistant will help you be more productive, so you can focus on what’s important – getting work done with your team,” the company says.

Right now, Spark Assistant can start, join and leave meetings; call someone in the company; and navigate and control Cisco Spark devices.

Cisco Spark Assistant will be first available on the new Cisco Spark Room 70, which features 70-inch 4K screens and quad 5K cameras. The cameras are capable of facial recognition and people count, so that Spark Assistant will know who entered the room, who left the room and who is speaking.

But Cisco wants to take Spark Assistant beyond joining and leaving meetings. It will become a full-fledged team member, helping to take notes, record meetings and book a meeting room.
Tim Tuttle, CTO of Cisco’s
Cognitive Collaboration

 “Most voice assistants on the market are built for consumer use. The things we need at home like ‘Alexa, play Mozart’ are very different from the things teams need at work like ‘Hey, Spark, pull up the presentation I drafted for this meeting,’” said Tim Tuttle, CTO of Cisco’s Cognitive Collaboration Group. “The biggest problem with enterprise adoption is crossing that chasm from ‘functional at home’ to ‘functional at work,’” Tuttle added.

In the future, Cisco Spark Assistant will use and learn from workers’ calendar, company directory and worker activity. “This is a system that might recommend a person who should be included in the meeting because that person can add value to the team. Computers do this well, while humans consistently don’t,” Tuttle explained.

Advanced AI in voice assistant

Virtual Assistant’s application in the office doesn’t stop with A/C control and meeting arrangement. There are companies working on developing virtual assistant’s natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. Besides equipment control, virtual assistant may crunch data and perform analysis to generate insightful information.

U.S.-based IT management company CapTech has developed a proprietary process for connecting data science with NLP to create enterprise solutions for predictive analytics.

NLP may carry on a conversation with an understanding of intent, emotion and context. CapTech develop Alexa skills for on behalf of many Fortune 500 companies. One use case may be a manager asking “Alexa, how are my sales performance this quarter?” In response, Alexa replied, “You are down 2.5 percent.” The manager may followed up immediately by saying, “Really, why?” as opposed to “Why are my sale down 2.5 percent?” He doesn’t have to repeat himself, thus having a more natural conversational flow.
Vinnie Schoenfelder, Chief
Technology Officer at

CapTech uses machine learning and data science and write custom codes for different business requirement. “We can do something programmatically to find out why the sales are down, and that would be something much more difficult for a person to query, because they have to check four or five different systems, open multiple spreadsheet and do some analysis,” said Vinnie Schoenfelder, Chief Technology Officer at CapTech.

The intelligent assistant may be applied for different purposes and industries. There are retailers that want to have voice services for either their employees or their customers. Still, some clients want to develop voice services that are B2B, enabling their business providers to order for them, check inventory, check delivery status and update orders, Schoenfelder added.

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