Virtual Assistants Infiltrate the Enterprise

Cortana, Microsoft’s updated mobile personal assistant in the latest Windows 8.1 mobile release named after the Halo artificial intelligence character, is deeply integrated into the operating system. Designed as a personal assistant, Cortana learns how you use your phone, your interests, your reminders, your most important contacts and gets smarter and moves to being proactive. It might recommend you leave early for a flight based on traffic, or give you a reminder about your flight.

While these personal assistants may improve your work life -- reminding you about meetings and keeping you connected to your contacts -- it doesn’t end there. These AI-based virtual assistants are poised to become as close as family as they gain importance in our daily lives. A little creepy? You can decide what you want to tell your virtual assistant, but since it’s integrated into the phone, it doesn't really matter.

Apple signed a mega deal with IBM to provide security and enterprise apps and is poised to expand its enterprise offerings. An “Enterprise Siri” is rumored to come from this partnership. The announced focus will take Siri virtual assistant technology to the next level: rather than just access to meetings, contacts and 24/7 GPS coordinates, it will soon have better access to corporate data than mobile enterprise apps, through means other than a VPN link. 

Google also wants to increase its position in the enterprise game and is in talks with HP to bring the “Google Now” assistant into the enterprise, giving Android access to corporate data sets. While you don't often think Apple when you think of search, the idea of a personal assistant definitely invokes thoughts of Siri. Reported by Business Insider and the Information, sources told the Information,

The idea is for employees to be able to ask their Android device for company information, such as financial data or product inventory information in the same way they do routine personal searches for weather, traffic or restaurant locations.”

Turning Search On Its Head

Microsoft introduced Microsoft Delve -- then known as codename Oslo -- at the Microsoft SharePoint Conference earlier this year as the technology that would put search on its head. Information finds you instead of you having to comb through information. While search is still the engine behind these push based activity feeds, the profile data and social distance will help drive relevance and the machine learning will improve at making relevant recommendations. With Delve sitting on Office 365, Microsoft will be able to demonstrate how the stack of Office 365 products are better together with Exchange, Yammer, SharePoint, CMS and more.

Employees are looking for smarter, faster access to the information they need. Personal assistants and next generation social graphs similar to Facebook’s social graph will change the way we access information.

Companies need to get smarter about how they structure their information by addressing core foundational data layers. Pay attention to corporate taxonomies and introduce automated processes that add additional metadata where it's left out from unstructured data sets. Doing this homework will make enterprise search results more relevant and will allow better results when interacting with enterprise data -- whether it's through text, voice or based on social distance. Access to enterprise data through intelligent interfaces is only getting better.