Intelligent Assistants Conference 2015 – Key Takeaways

Opus Research’s Intelligent Assistants Conference in New York (#IACNYC) finished up yesterday. As with last year’s conference, this was a great event and I still have a ton of impressions and ideas swirling in my head. But if I grasp for the top takeaways, I come up with two.

IACNYCThe first was articulated by Ticketmasters’ Phil Jennings, vice president of Contact Centres. To paraphrase Jennings: “Businesses are under increasing pressure to service customers digitally.”

My second takeaway comes from Andy Mauro, senior director, Cognitive Innovations Group, Nuance Communications. To quote Andy: “Intelligent assistants are the delivery vehicle for artificial intelligence.”

Let’s look at the statement from Jennings. At the 1st Intelligent Assistants Conference, my takeaway was that companies were “already” using IAs to reap significant business benefits. In just a year, the situation has changed. Companies are now compelled to offer effective self-service options to their customers. It’s no longer just about call deflection. If customers need help and can’t find a quick, intuitive self-service option on the channel of their choosing, they are likely to abandon and perhaps go to a competitor. As Paul Smith of Codebaby said during his panel session, abandonment is the new option.

Self-service solutions, including intelligent assistants, don’t have to be perfect. Most of the company representatives that presented their case studies made it clear that their solutions continued to be works in progress. They proactively analyze results and make improvements; it’s an ongoing journey. But every case study made it clear that providing customers with 24/7 access to information, on all their preferred digital channels, is now mandatory.

The second takeaway is that the role and scope of intelligent assistants has dramatically expanded; but at the same time, it’s also narrowed. What does that mean? Well, on the one hand, technologies such as machine learning and IoT are providing incredible opportunities for automating and improving our lives. Intelligent assistants can proactively control the temperature of our homes, help us craft a more effective email, and automatically switch us to a cheaper utility provider. These are only a few examples of how IAs are now more than narrowly-focused customer self-service agents.

But is that what IAs are? Or are they the natural, intuitive gateway connecting us to those capabilities? Mauro says that IAs are the delivery vehicles for are the capabilities that artificial intelligence provides. To me, that means that those of us focused on intelligent assistants can concentrate on the core features of IA technologies. Those core features include conversational abilities, avatars, empathy tracking, and the underlying capabilities outlined in Opus’s recent Intelligent Assistants Landscape.

This narrowing of scope takes some of the pressure off and helps define our areas of research. The need for intelligent assistants is accelerating just as rapidly as the technological advances. It’s an exciting time to be in the industry.

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