‘Hey Alexa, Start My Meeting’

Manufacturers, unified communications providers and AI experts think virtual assistants will become a standard component of meeting rooms.

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‘Hey Alexa, Start My Meeting’

Once everyone is back in the office, there will undoubtedly be a much larger emphasis on hygiene, with hand sanitizer stations and social distancing expected to be the norm until we’re truly over our fears of the novel coronavirus that has emptied offices around the world.

We’re likely to see new technology designed to help make that transition back to the office seamless, and technology like voice-activated meeting room controls and other artificial intelligence assistants could become commonplace in the office.

Already, providers like Microsoft, Zoom, Google, Logitech and Poly are making virtual assistants a larger part of the conference room, with functionality largely relegated to starting and joining meetings and other simple meeting room controls for Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Zoom calls.

However, advancements in artificial intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning could present new opportunities to AV integrators to add new layers of technology to their meeting room offerings and make the user experience even more seamless.

Improving the user experience

Poly recently introduced Alexa for Business for Poly Zoom Rooms solutions, which allows users to ask Amazon’s virtual assistant to join meetings and book rooms with Alexa built directly into the Zoom Management Portal.

“What we see is a big play towards medium and large rooms as we try and meet safely together and still spatial distance in the early days,” says Beau Wilder, vice president and general manager of video collaboration at Poly. “We see the voice-driven experience as the killer app.”

Simply put, a larger use of virtual assistants in the office – and thus the conference room – can help eliminate friction points and turn what might take five minutes into five seconds.

“That’s real value to a customer,” Wilder says.

There is especially value to end users who continue to struggle with setting up videoconference meetings, says Igor Jablokov, an artificial intelligence expert who helped develop the technology that led to Amazon’s Alexa and CEO of Pryon, an augmented AI company designed to quickly answer questions in an enterprise setting.

“We’ve all had issues trying to get something to work in a workplace,” Jablokov says. “That stuff is still ripe for disruption.”

With remote work lingering, our work and home lives remain intertwined, which means we’re interacting with the consumer versions of Alexa and Google Assistant and wondering why that same functionality hasn’t gone with us to the office.

Further, there’s a whole generation of young professionals that essentially consider Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant or other AIs part of the family.

“I think there’s going to be a new generation of enterprise software that’s going to be purpose-built for these folks that are going to be taking over business,” Jablokov says.

Beyond simple meeting room controls

Beyond simple meeting controls, virtual assistants could be used during the conference room to automate other tasks, like sharing the Wi-Fi password, closing the blinds and booking other conference rooms.

And, when enterprise AI assistants evolve beyond those controls, they can be queried during videoconference calls to call up important data on quarterly sales figures and other historical financial data for the customer, Jablokov says.

For example, a regional manager of an ice cream chain could feasibly be able to query an AI to ask about how many ice cream cones were sold during a 73 degree day and get an answer immediately, which will help cut down on meeting time and enhance the user experience.

“That’s what’s going to happen,” Jablokov says.

Microsoft also has plans to make its virtual assistant Cortana a larger part of the Office 365 experience, including Microsoft Teams.

Now, the company is developing new abilities and integrations for Cortana that include dictating meetings and action items, sending messages, sharing files and more.

“We have started to get some of these functionalities off the ground and are continuing to explore and innovate to add even more,” a Microsoft spokesperson said via email.