Intelligent Assistance: A Focused Approach Bringing AI to the Enterprise

In her excellent "Expert Advice" column from Aug. 11, fellow analyst Sheryl Kingstone notes that enterprises, to date, have committed the bulk of their customer experience investments to systems of record (SoR), essentially customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning. She points out that their money might be best spent instead on systems of engagement (SoE), which are very often described as artificial intelligence for the enterprise. Data elements that make up the SoR would ideally serve as a single source of the truth for a variety SoEs, making it possible to extend highly personalized offers, suggestions, and other forms of support-based accurate data or metadata regarding the current state of customers, product inventories, services available, and the like.

Sheryl refers to AI as "the glue delivering contextually relevant experiences, powered by newfound data." I like that definition and note that the data sets powered by AI are more like data flows. They are huge and dynamic and make the processes of bringing AI into real-time conversations the basis for never-ending effort.

In an era when we fear robot overlords subjugating mankind and making us unnecessary, it should be reassuring to note that implementing AI in the enterprise creates employment opportunities for knowledge management experts, computational linguists, and machine learning aficionados, among others.

Harnessing the Power of AI on the Customer's Behalf

Stated simply, general-purpose AI amounts to overkill for customer care. Its wingspan touches nearly every aspect of enterprise IT and can inform almost every business unit and executive suite. The cozy confines of CRM and ERP are now augmented by the full spectrum of machine-readable information (both structured and unstructured) made available over the internet. Customer experience certainly benefits from the inexorable expansion of AI, but taking sole responsibility for its implementation would be like boiling the entire ocean to brew a cup of tea.

Opus Research uses the term intelligent assistance (IA) in disaggregate AI and parses out elements that have direct relevance to creating a better customer experience. In the current customer care gestalt, as depicted in the graphic below, bot authoring tools, delivery platforms, and application programming interfaces have assumed an important place in the intelligent assistance arena.


To an increasing degree, digital commerce, customer care, and marketing have become the domains of intelligent assistants and bots. These two entities are well-suited to harness the power of big data, analytics, and artificial intelligence on behalf of both prospects and customers. The landscape is designed to provide a starting point for customer experience professionals, along with the other executives taking charge of digital transformation and omnichannel strategies to ground their understanding of the new professional services and platform providers that will make it possible to offer a consistent experience that spans Alexa skills, Google Actions, and messenger bots, as well as in-house interactive voice response, chat, and SMS.

The hype around general AI draws a direct link to the threats posed by cranky computers on spaceships ("Open the pod door, Hal!") and the potential downside of truly autonomous vehicles ("I don't feel like taking you to the grocery store!"). Yet experience with bots and IAs demonstrates the value of conversational user interfaces to simplify our lives, starting with the modest goal of setting alarms, playing music, or ordering pizza. It doesn't take long for the lightbulb to go on among digital marketing planners to picture all of the potential for moving the "How May I Help You?" greeting from an IVR system or website to a device that lives in an individual's pocket, sits on a kitchen counter, or occupies space at bedside.

Enterprise AI is all well and good, and its presence is expanding within each company's IT infrastructure. The area of opportunity that should be of most interest to customer experience professionals is the IA (which has an alternative meaning of "intelligent augmentation"). It represents the packaging of AI in ways that are most beneficial to us mere mortals. And Opus Research will be convening the Sixth Intelligent Assistants Conference in San Francisco, September 18-19, featuring real-world use cases from the likes of Nike, Intercontinental Hotels Group, FedEx, DBS Bank in Singapore, and the government of Australia to provide case studies, insights, experience and best practices. It ain't hype if it's true. And it's always educational to hear from the individuals who share real-world experience in conversational commerce and intelligent assistance.

Dan Miller is founder and lead analyst at Opus Research.