IT leaders shouldn’t have to be in the audience for Apple’s launch event on Wednesday to realize that Siri may wind up being the most important hire they never made.
Apple is widely expected to announce the iPhone 6S, most like an iterative model with a slightly thicker shell, a better camera and so on. There may also be a new set-top box and more details on Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan and iOS 9. Given the invitation to the launch was headlined “Hey Siri, give us a hint,” however, there’s little doubt that one of the major highlights will involve the company’s often-ridiculed virtual assistant.
According to a story on AppleInsider, Apple will likely reveal a function dubbed “hotwording,” which means the iPhone 6S may work much like Android devices using the “OK Google” service with hands-free message composition, calls and searches. The ability for Siri to work without being connected to a charger is just the beginning, though:
As announced in June, Siri comes greatly enhanced in iOS 9 with contextual “Siri Suggestions,” proactive search services, deep searches, sports and weather integration and more. The big story is contextual processing of data to facilitate smarter operation. For example, a user reading an email might tell Siri, “Remind me about this tonight,” and the virtual assistant will generate a reminder accordingly.
This personalized, contextualized approach to Siri reflects something that businesses have been trying to do across their Web sites, enterprise software and (if they have them) mobile apps. The difference is that those efforts are often failures, with data ineffectively linked across databases and systems. Too many employees still can’t find what they need in their company’s own applications, let alone have those applications respond like a coworker or help them like a member of the admin staff.
There’s a reason why Microsoft has been feverishly working to make its Cortana virtual assistant a bigger part of Windows 10 (though not, sadly, in Canada as yet), and why Facebook recently joined the fun with Facebook M. If the artificial intelligence of these assistants come even close to making the navigation of applications and data more fluid, they not only boost engagement but offer the kind of one-to-one relationship that most companies only dream of having with their customers.
For the last several years, CIOs have been pressured to respond to the ‘cosumerization of IT’ largely by allowing employees to use more of the software and hardware that they want. If Siri gets a lot better than it is today, though, the debate over bring-your-own device or application programs will seem entirely beside the point. Who will want to use clunky CRM, marketing automation or other business software if it can’t respond to simple (as opposed to explicit) questions from a human being? Why would a company’s customers want to deal with a jittery chat app on their web site when something like Siri looks after so many of their needs in their personal life?
As Apple opens up Siri to greater support and integration for third-party apps, IT leaders should be thinking about the way virtual assistants will redefine expectations of human-machine interaction. Then maybe they should ask Siri to remind them to do something about it.