Over recent times great advances seem to have been made with the technology behind Intelligent Personal Assistants like the Amazon Alexa however this has been brewing for at least 15 years since search improved from knowledge based and semantic to Artificial Intelligence using natural language. Only now however are we entering a period where this technology can be leveraged across numerous product lines offering a seamless experience.
One of the starting points on this journey dates back to 2002 when Google launched “Google Voice Search” which enabled users to access the internet via voice commands and later in 2007 True Knowledge launched its Knowledge Answer engine. In 2011 we saw the launch of Siri by Apple and in 2012 True Knowledge launched a major new product called Evi which was an artificial intelligence program which could be communicated with using natural language (The company was acquired in 2012 by Amazon and the technology became a key part of the Amazon Alexa assistant which debuted in the Amazon Echo). Over the next few years the full set emerged which we know today (Google Now 2012, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa in 2014 and Samsung Bixby in 2017) until the technology found a new home outside of the mobile handset.
The issue with the Intelligent Personal Assistant technology however was that it was handset dependant so you were reliant on carrying your mobile device when you needed that injection of inspiration. One solution was the creation of an always on device which could be placed in open spaces like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. These however are also reliant on placement but if situated in a prominent place in the house with them constantly listening for command words they certainly can start to bridge the gap although instead of being a mobile device with software loaded they are now a speaker. So where will this technology go next? Alexa is already being placed in alternative objects like a lamp (GE Sol is launching the C which is a lamp with Alexa built in – although Dyson may be interested in the similarities to the Cool Desk Fan) and numerous other devices which are Alexa compatible like the Ecobees thermostat are entering the market. Amazon is also launching a new device called the Amazon Look which also has a camera although initially I am sure there will be concerns on its placement and if this could be hacked like a PC camera to spy on you. The premise however is that you can take selfies or videos and one use could be to show you how you look in an outfit or for security.
The Innovation is also not coming just from the usual suspects either and the Israel-based Intuition Robotics is developing the virtual assistant specifically for the elderly called ElliQ to deal with users who may experience social isolation and physical inactivity where it will suggest a walk when the weather is nice or say when it’s time to take medication.
Even though the technology is now moving at a tremendous pace there is still one hurdle to overcome before it migrates to the mainstream; verification. Because the devices are located in open spaces, constantly on and linked to a user’s account with no bio-metric verification unless you live alone you would not want to link the devices to sensitive information like financial or health as anyone could request information. However once voice verification is cracked the uses will be endless and in addition to the previous what if you could connect to wearables, specific IOT devices and pay for things from nominated accounts, everyone would want one. This day will not be far away though so dust off those Business Cases and think of the possibilities.
Even though technology changes at exponential rates there are numerous innovations which have catapulted technology forward and new ways of working have emerged, just think where we would be if we hadn’t embraced Broadband, the iPhone, the iPad or an app store culture? We are now however just about to enter a new era and everything could change again. Over the last few years we have all started to get used to intelligent personal assistants like Siri, Cortana and Google Now, however these are very reactive to the user i.e. unless you mobile is near you and you press the button you cannot use them. One product which is currently only available in the US is the Amazon Echo which is starting to change this concept to one of an always on device. The Echo is a wireless speaker and voice command device which responds to the name “Alexa”; the device constantly listens for the “Wake word” and the device is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic and other real time information. It can also control several smart devices and home automation. On a recent Gartner webinar it was shared that By 2018, 30% of Our Interactions with Technology Will Be through “Conversations” with Smart Machines and by 2020, 10% of households in mature markets will have at least five connected home devices; all will use biometric interfaces (10.5 Billion Internet of Things Will Be Used at Home and Spending Will Reach $348B by 2020) so these devices will be key to the success for all IOT devices and especially home automation. When these devices become mainstream in the home and cars no longer will we need any devices and everything could be done through voice commands. In addition to the Echo numerous companies from Facebook to CNN are looking at BOT technology to use voice commands. CNN are using Bots to tailor topics that are sent to you, scroll through carousels of different news stories and to ask for a specific summaries of a story, e-commerce sites like Spring have shopping concierges and Facebook is testing its artificially intelligent secretary, called M, within its Messenger app in the US which uses a combination of human labour and machine learning to complete tasks for you. It can purchase items, get gifts delivered, book restaurants, and make travel arrangements. At Microsoft’s annual build conference Nadella said “Human language is the new user interface, Bots are like apps and digital assistants are like meta apps, or the new browsers. It was also announced that there were plans to integrate Bots into Skype.
In China, 600m people already use messaging app WeChat every month to hail taxis, book doctor’s appointments, and pay utility bills. Western consumers are different to the Chinese, partly because we are far more used to the app ecosystem – but texting is a deeply-embedded mobile habit in the West as well, so chatting with a bot should feel natural.
A new paradigm shift is just around the corner, so hold on and enjoy the ride
Even though much has been written on the virtues of mapping digital customer journeys with the goal of ensuring people get to their destination on a website or via a map in the most efficient way, is this journey really the “happy path” for the user? Is the shortest path always the happiest if it only gains a few seconds or clicks? In a recent Ted Talk Daniele Quercia explains how he is using Crowdsourcing to redefine suggested routes on a map which not only show the Shortest but also the most Beautiful, Happy and Quietest and all only exhibit a slight increase in travel time. The logic is that most people would rather enjoy the journey than be stuck in traffic just because it is the shortest route. He is currently using Crowdsourcing to ask people to compare pictures along routes and vote on the merits of the image as to whether it makes them feel happy, sad, if the picture shows congestion or is quiet etc. From this, variant routes can be offered that go through parks, quiet neighbourhoods etc. In future they are also looking to overlaying sounds, smells and memories.
Einstein once said – Logic Gets you from A to B, Imagination will get you everywhere.
This did however get me thinking about how these thoughts could be used to differentiate customer journeys on websites and applications. Wouldn’t it be good if different mediums had different journeys or interactions? Just because customer data is required should we always be faced with tedious alphabetic responses e.g. when asked to input our country do we really need to pre-guess the mind of the developer as to how it was defined? (In the UK you generally have to guess does a site need Great Britain, Britain, England, United Kingdom, UK etc. or even if the developer has put United Kingdom and USA randomly at the top or bottom of the list) Wouldn’t it be better for the device to use GPS and for you to confirm a Flag, especially if it’s on a small form factor device like a mobile? Maybe a boring form could be broken up with useful information or different ways to submit, maybe even weaving in gamification. In the future focus will need to be given to the data submission process and how this can be made happier for the customer and the companies that change this will certainly differentiate themselves, just think how may times you have started filling in personal information on a site and just got bored of the process and go elsewhere where it is either more pleasurable or easy. Maybe the happy path needs to be one that the customer enjoys not one that gets you from A to B in the most efficient manner? Business shouldn’t be boring even if the process is.
Over the last few years we have all embraced the World Wide Web and in turn had to change our engrained beliefs about sharing our personal information. At first it was just your name, address and email details to enable you to buy things, then with the advent of Social we all started to share a bit more of our soul (hopefully only to select groups) with pictures and views. Even though in the back of everyone’s mind still lurked security concerns due to the long list of hacking scandals, the hope that from going from simple short passwords to longer complex ones would secure your data effectively. However at the end of the day if you were compromised, usually updating your password and getting a new credit card would suffice.
With recent advances in technology though and the constant need to digitise is this all about to change?
In the last month alone we have seen Barclays launching a Cloud Based Document Management System so you can store copies of all your important documents like your driving licence and passport. Apple released the iPhone 5S with a fingerprint scanner and a new start-up called Nymi announced an authentication device which uses your own unique cardiac rhythm. Even Nissan announced it was working on a smart watch that monitors you and the car and would eventually capture your heartbeat and brainwaves. In addition to these Microsoft has also launched a Healthvault to enable you to organise your family’s health information.
What is wrong with this you may ask?
Although all of these technologies sound fantastic and I myself would love to use them all, the big question is how much do you trust the supplier? Do you know them, do they run their own computers or outsource everything, what happened if they were compromised and your information got out? Up to now if your password was compromised you could just choose another one, but what would happen if Information like your fingerprints or cardiac rhythm which is unique to you was compromised? We worry now about having someone stealing our identity by using basic information, what would happen if they had information so personal that it would never change during your whole lifetime, once your extremely personal information is out there it can’t be altered, it is 100% you and someone else may have it?
I am sure most companies will stay ahead of the game and ensure everyone’s data is secure, however how much of your personal information would you trust with a stranger? Would you choose to be an early adopter or laggard with these advances?
Innovation is an interesting field as it encompasses “change” in all areas, albeit most people only sight “disruption” as its main component. It would be nice to think that every person involved in Innovation only dealt with creating the latest new craze however for most incremental change is their bread and butter.
From a business as usual perspective one of the most important elements to understand when embarking on change is the cultural beliefs and expectations both from within the organisation and of the consumers, as these tend to change over the years and should encourage product updates. One product line which should have changed as cultural expectations shifted over the years is the personal computing market.
One of the biggest drivers which have changed the consumer’s personal computing needs is the advent of “cloud app stores” and the belief that the internet is now a safer place to transact where downloading applications and making purchases is acceptable. Prior to this most consumers needed to have a Laptop or Desktop “fully loaded” with a minimum spec of software so that they could complete a full range of activities from surfing the web to creating documents and any further software would need to be purchased and loaded by the user.
With the advent of the “cloud app stores” many entry level devices have launched onto the market with basic computing features which can be updated with paid apps to bring the user towards the previous “fully loaded” computer. In this decade “Less is Certainly More”.
One thing that still surprises me is that even though the personal computing market is offering services which most casual Internet users no longer need most reporters continue to focus on its demise. Should we not be reporting that PC sales have only plunged 14%?
“Personal computer sales plunged 14 percent in the first three months of the year, the biggest decline in two decades of keeping records, as tablets continue to gain in popularity and buyers appear to be avoiding Microsoft Corp’s new Windows 8 system, according to a leading tech tracking firm”
The Personal Computing market is no different from any other Product Line which at first offered a product in which “one size had to fit all” however those days are gone and personalisation is the key. Real innovators recognise Cultural changes in society and introduce or update products that may cannibalise existing lines but still retain customer spend.
It is better to innovate a product line than loose it to your competitors.
If you read the press it seems that most companies are obsessed with becoming digital. There is no doubt that digitising your operations will reduce costs and improve efficiency however when it comes to the Customer this may not be true.
Even though the word “Digital” is quickly becoming one of the most used and least understood words of the decade some interesting statistics have been released by the ONS concerning the use of the internet. Surprisingly 7 million people in the UK have never used the internet which equates to 14.7 per cent of the adult population. Even more surprising is that the UK is more internet savvy than the rest of the EU. In the 27 countries that form the European Union, 22 per cent of adults had never used the internet as at the end of 2012.
Overall more men have used the internet than women, 88.1 per cent against 83.6 per cent however up to the age of 44, slightly more women than men have logged in online. From 65 however women’s usage tails off with 62.1 per cent (65-74) against the men’s 71.3 per cent.
The statistics produced by the ONS certainly expose a Customer divide which should be incorporated into all Business Strategies. If you are unaware of your customer segmentation this should be a wakeup call to start creating plans and customer personas; as without this any Product Innovation or Marketing may not be targeting your preferred market.
In the future as the “Internet of Things” starts to emerge (where all devices are connected to the web) the reliance on “pure” internet connectivity will change and you may see an increase in Internet usage as consumers start to surf the web and shop via their TVs, Smart Watches, Glasses etc. However this vision is not tomorrow, so even though Digital should be a priority don’t forget the 7 million people who do not use the Internet