Application Development

Siri, Cortana and the digital assistant opportunity

The following is a contributed article by Mark Armstrong, vice president and EMEA managing director EMEA, Progress Software


The continued extension of Apple’s digital assistant Siri across its device ecosystem is indicative of a wider industry trend. According to Gartner, by the end of 2015 mobile digital assistants will take on tactical mundane processes such as filling out names, addresses and credit card information. As it stands currently, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri take user and mobile-enabled contextual data – such as location and time – to respond directly to simple voice requests and questions. This has multiple benefits for the user as they are able to find timely and relevant information, quickly.

In the future, however, digital assistants will be capable of so much more. From helping users with complex scheduling and purchasing decisions, to independently warning a user of upcoming disruptions to their schedule, the impact they will have on our day-to-day lives will be much more far-reaching. These decisions will be based on detailed knowledge of exactly when products or admin tasks are needed and why – something akin to personalised inventory management. But, this is not only useful for the consumer but businesses are able advantage of digital assistants too. They should start to consider how to create their own killer business app that centralises decision and automation tools in one intelligent application.

To do this, in-house teams will need to build and reconcile data from multiple, complex databases and be able to access data sources on employees’ phones to provide the real time intelligence and information needed to create useful tools.

Information overload

Humanity, according to IBM data, creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of information each day. The proliferation of smart devices for both personal and professional use has allowed employees to store and access information in many disparate productivity applications. These may be applications that help us manage and prioritise workloads such as Evernote, or to collaborate with teams on projects with tools such as Huddle.

However, there is no common app that unites all useful data, meaning that teams often experience information overload, app-multitasking and ultimately, app weariness. As a result, apps’ productivity benefits are compromised; there are simply too many of them. In fact, a study by analytics firm Comscore found that only about 35% of smartphone users download any apps at all in an average month, indicating a trend towards app fatigue.

Forward-thinking businesses should be looking at how these digital assistants can become the one central application that can take on decision-making and functions for specific admin tasks. While there is no way to know for sure whether digital assistants will be optimised for business, there is an opportunity for them to be custom-built, drawing on the similar functionalities and productivity examples set by Siri and Cortana.

The custom built assistant

By compiling complex data sets taken from employee smartphone apps including email inboxes, internet browsers, calendars, a killer business app could help standardise letters or paragraphs, compile emails using voice or simple commands, or send a letter to a customer.

In fact, the opportunities for digital assistants in business are almost endless. Each business function from HR to IT can seize on the opportunity to help people follow processes and procedures. From notifying an employee they are entering a zone where a hardhat is required to reminding them fill in a feedback form, digital assistants are an exciting opportunity for businesses. In relation to marketing efforts, a clever app could automate and establish two way conversations with consumers using contextual information. This could either happen online via social media or extremely intelligent assistants could help out in call centres.

The data dilemma 

In order for the above scenario to become a reality, businesses will need to look at how they can better aggregate multiple complex data streams in their employees’ ecosystem into one app. It is not just about understanding large pools of disparate data, but rather how they relate to and can be integrated with one another. Externally, there are experts on hand to help with data processing and integration. Technologies such as Hadoop and NoSQL provide platforms to enable scalable, flexible, cost effective, rapid and resilient solutions. Many organisations will have a combination of both structured and unstructured data.

The digital assistant opportunity should be looked at carefully. Business leaders should be considering how employees currently use apps and data for productivity benefits and how these can be built on to provide one simple yet efficient alternative.



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