Talking Hands-Free with your Enterprise Software By Martin Gunnarsson, Director of IFS, 29 Sep 2015

For the last 30 years or so the dominant user interaction with enterprise software has been through keyboards and screens in different sizes and form factors. It started with desktop computers with big monitors, then laptops, then smart phones and tablets.

These days, thanks to the internet and cloud services, data can be accessible to anyone at any time. You don’t need to be stuck at a desk to browse social or business data. Undoubtedly, this makes you more productive.

However, you are still stuck behind the screens and keyboards on your smart phone, tablet or laptop and have been so for the last three decades. Yet there are many situations when you are not able to use your phone, but still need to access business data to remain productive: when you’re out on site with your hands full, for instance, or driving a vehicle.

Whatever innovation we have seen throughout the years, talking remains a natural way to communicate (teenagers excluded, possibly), so IFS Labs have looked at ways for people to start talking to their enterprise software. The result was the Intelligent Personal Assistant, a mobile app that lets the user control IFS Applications by their voice, via a smart phone or tablet.

I Talk To Google To Order Sushi And A Beer In Tokyo

Let me step outside my comfort zone of enterprise software for a moment to explore how we use voice interaction already today.

If I need to get in contact with my broadband supplier at home, I first navigate through voice interaction in their support centre to explain the issue. It’s convenient and works very well. The Google Translate app can help me to order sushi and a beer in Japanese as I frequently visit Tokyo on business. It’s a bit embarrassing, but fun.

Looking at enterprise software, there are a number of situations when voice has the greatest potential. It might not necessarily be the only user experience in a given scenario, but a great complementary one.

For instance:

  • Users who are in eyes-busy and hands-busy situations such as driving, wearing protective gloves preventing them from touching a device, or getting instructions when repairing equipment.

  • Users who need a very simple user interface (think Google search, Siri or Cortana) where you don’t get paralysed by lots of menus or buttons but instead just ask the system simple questions and it will guide you through your queries.

  • Users with various disabilities who cannot see or use a keyboard and a screen.

Traffic Statistics And Potential Benefits

Even if new technologies can offer cool new things, I’d like to see if there are some potential benefits to be gained.

Using the TomTom Traffic Index, we can see some statistics on how traffic jams in major cities delay people, and how this time could also potentially be used in a more productive way than spending your energy swearing at traffic.

Congestion level means increase in overall travel times when compared to a free flow situation. Please visit the TomTomTraffic Index for more details.

In many countries, including Australia, you are only allowed to use your phone in hands-free mode when driving. Talking to your enterprise software in your vehicle to check some business data to have on hand before arriving at your destination could be a smart use of non-productive time spent in traffic.

If you’re driving to a remote site, you not that likely to be stuck in traffic. But there will still be long, boring sections of the journey when you could provide your system with updated data or check that everything will be ready for you when you arrive.

Of course driving is just one, very common example. I’m sure you can think of many more ways that talking could improve the user experience of your enterprise software and your organisation’s productivity. It’s something you should probably start thinking about because the reality is just around the corner.

About the Author

Martin Gunnarsson is the Director of IFS Labs, a think tank tasked with finding new ways to push the boundaries of what ERP systems can and should do – often leveraging consumer technology as inspiration.