A stack of Los Angeles Times newspapers.
Catching up on the latest news in customer experience, including WCM software analysis, new hires and acquisitions. PHOTO: Daniel R. Blume

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools in the digital workplace, such as virtual personal assistants (VPAs) and other forms of chatbots, will grow by over 70 percent in the next two years, according to research from Gartner.

While the use of these VPAs and chatbots aims to increase productivity and take on some of the more mundane workplace tasks, they don’t’ come without risk, according to Helen Poitevin, senior research director at Gartner. According to recent research, Predicts 2019: AI and the Future of Work, Poitevin said that without proper controls AI agents can cause negative disruption in the workplace.

“Digital workplace leaders will proactively implement AI-based technologies such as virtual assistants or other natural language processing (NLP)-based conversational agents and robots to support and augment employees’ tasks and productivity,” she said. “However, the AI agents must be properly monitored to prevent digital harassment and frustrating user experiences.”

Past incidents have shown that poorly designed assistants cause frustration among employees, sometimes prompting bad behavior and abusive language toward the VPA. “This can create a toxic work environment, as the bad habits will eventually leak into interactions with co-workers,” she added.

She pointed out that recent experiments have also shown that people’s abusive behavior toward AI technologies can translate into how they treat the humans around them. Organizations should consider this when establishing VPAs in the workplace and train the assistants to respond appropriately to aggressive language.

So how will AI be used? Gartner offers the example of banking. It predicts that, by 2020, 20 percent of operational bank staff engaged in back-office activities will rely on AI to do non-routine work. AI technology can assist and augment the work of the staff by reducing errors and providing recommendations on the next best step. The outlook for AI in banking is in favor of proactively controlling AI tools as helpers, Poitevin added, and those can be used for reviewing documents or interpreting commercial-loan agreements.

Needless to saying banking is not the only area that will be disrupted by AI.

Microsoft Teams Targets Slack — Again

It is widely believed that Slack, riding high on continued and growing interest in digital workplace applications, is going to file an IPO sometime in the first half of the year. When the IPO does finally happen, it is likely to be one of the biggest of the year given that it was valued at around $7 billion last August following an exceptional funding round of $427 million. The money, the company indicated at the time, would be used to build its business and product portfolio.

In the intervening months, though, Microsoft has been building out its Teams collaboration application and, if the recent functionality additions are anything to go by, it is possible that it could really rain on Slack’s IPO parade.

Only last week, for example, Microsoft, two years after it introduced Skype Room Systems, that provides a room control that provides top-end audio and video to meetings, announced it is rebranding it as Microsoft Teams Rooms. Among the companies that are using them are HP, Lenovo, Logitech and Polycom all of which will be using Teams Rooms as part of their collaboration and communications efforts.

The rebranding isn't just a name change, but will be associated with the addition of some new features in Microsoft Teams Rooms devices. Earlier in January, Microsoft introduced a one-touch join control allowing employees to enter a meeting via audio and/or video.

To date, customers have conducted more than 130 million minutes of meetings through Skype Room Systems. In light of this momentum, Microsoft has decided to use it to make Teams a complete meetings and calling solution. “Our goal is to extend Teams meetings into every space from small huddle rooms to large conference rooms,” Christian Schacht explained in a Microsoft technology blog post

The center-room control is not the only addition. Microsoft has also introduced the following.

  • Proximity detection that will make it easy to discover and add nearby, available Microsoft Teams Rooms to any meeting.
  • Companion experiences with mobile, to join your devices in content-only mode.
  • Support for dual screen rooms.

It is likely a lot more will be announced at the Integrated Systems Europe in February, Schacht added. The question is whether this is going to hurt Slack, given that Teams offers much of the functionality that is included in Slack as well, of course, of the benefits of being part of Office 365.

Over the coming months there is little doubt that Microsoft will continue to expand Teams to such a point that enterprises won’t need any other collaboration applications. Whether this slows Slack’s progress remains to be seen, but it is likely that we will a lot more additions to both Teams and Slack as the IPO gets nearer.

WhatsApp Is Top Messaging App in 2018

Research from Smooch indicates that despite a difficult year in the media spotlight, Facebook is still the messaging space leader with WhatsApp, reporting the existence of 1.5 billion accounts and Messenger following close behind. Meanwhile, in China, Tencent-owned WeChat and QQ collectively claim more than 1.8 billion users. The report is based on responses from 34 senior product and customer experience (CX) professionals about the current state of conversational business and technology.

During 2018, many of the world’s biggest tech firms opened their messaging platforms to businesses. Elsewhere, with a combination of AI-powered automation and human-centric customer care, a new generation of conversational companies emerged in many verticals.

However, the global messaging space remains as fragmented as ever. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are the top messaging apps in America, Africa, Australia and much of the Middle East, while competitors like Viber, WeChat, Line and Telegram maintain their strongholds in regions such as Russia, China, Japan and Iran.

According to the report, these developments have produced a windfall of new opportunities for brands to engage and convert customers. They’ve also introduced a host of technical and operational challenges in an increasingly complex and competitive global economy.

Google Detects Data Leaks

Google started 2019 by introducing a bunch of new security additions to its productivity suite G Suite. The new security alerts are designed to secure all the productivity apps in the suite including Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Sites, Slides and Drive. It also aims to provide enterprises with a warning when someone starts exporting data outside the firewall.

The data export initiated alert provides details about an administrator for the Google account who has started exporting data from the enterprise domain. Google points out in a blog post about the release that data export typically takes 72 hours or more, depending on the size of the domain. You can see the status of the export in the Data Export tool. From the Alert details page, administrators can view important details about this alert — including an alert summary, the date and time of the alert, and the actor (the user who initiated the data export).

The need to export information can be a legitimate one; someone in IT, for example, may be curating or backing up content. However, the real worry is unauthorized export of data beyond the firewall that occurs when outside attackers have breached security and are stealing content.

If, as Google writes, the export of content takes up to three-days to complete, then this at least will give IT time to stop the leak and examine to see whether the data export is legitimate or not. Google has also said that it will be adding machine learning to detect malicious incoming email into Gmail accounts. It hasn’t said when this will be introduced.

Alfresco and Tech Mahindra Extend Partnership

Also this week, Alfresco and Tech Mahindra, a digital transformation, consulting and re-engineering specialist, today announced the extension of their global partnership. Part of the partnership announcement is the development of new solution frameworks built on the Alfresco Digital Business Platform to meet the needs of digital workplace customers by simplifying content creation, access, sharing and review.

The new solutions that Tech Mahindra has built on the Alfresco digital platform include enterprise customer’s journey towards digital transformation by:

  • Using predictive intelligence, cloud enablement and automated processes resulting in improved productivity.
  • Providing a faster and more cost-effective method for migrating content from legacy IT systems to Alfresco’s Digital Business Platform in the Cloud or on-premises.
  • Making search intelligent through an AI-powered solution for tagging, classifying and categorizing unstructured content.
  • Automating on-boarding processes that require document reviews, approvals and electronic signatures.

The expansion of the partnership will also enable Tech Mahindra to use Alfresco’s cloud-first, open platform to launch their latest AI and machine learning technology to provide cloud migration services, cloud operations services, content consolidation services and the new framework that will enable content analysis, classification and tagging.