“Hey Google, set a timer for 15 minutes.”

“Hey Google, what’s the weather like today?”

“Hey Google, remind me to water the plants when I get home.”

These are all requests you might be asking your digital assistant today, but soon you may be asking Google, “what time is my client meeting,” or “share my calendar with management.”

Digital assistants are an in-demand accessory for homeowners, and we’re already beginning to see conversational artificial intelligence (AI) move from the home to the workplace. With user behavior shifting at a rapid pace, mobile app development companies are adapting to accommodate the demands of voice search. Digital assistants hold the potential to create a more efficient workforce by helping employees schedule meetings, track to-do lists, and set up reminders. While voice technology is still in the early days of development, the real question you may want to ask is, “Hey Google, how will voice technology impact my startup?”

Digital Assistant Market Share

Digital assistants had a record year in 2017 with smart speaker sales increasing by 279 percent and anticipated to reach 43.6 million units sold by the end of this year. Additionally, eMarketer predicts that digital assistant usage will increase by nearly 130 percent in 2018.

Source: Statistica

In 2017, Google Assistant accounted for 25 percent of the global digital assistant market share; however, that share is anticipated to increase to 43 percent in the following years. Regardless of brand name, 47.3 million U.S. adults have access to a digital assistant, and that number is growing. Users are becoming more comfortable with smart speaker technology, and it’s time for businesses to take notice.

What is a Digital Assistant?

A digital assistant (also referred to as a voice assistant) is a software service, typically paired with a hardware device like a smart speaker, which possesses the ability to answer questions and perform various tasks using natural language processing (NLP). Well-known digital assistants are Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, and Microsoft Cortana.

NLP is a subset of AI. NLP allows programmed devices to parse voice input and process natural language data. In the case of digital assistants, the software uses NLP to synthesize voice output in response to user requests.

So, why should you care about digital assistants? Simply put, you should care because consumers care, and whether you’re prepared or not, voice technology is making a significant impact on the way employees collaborate in the years to come.

What’s Fueling the Growth of Digital Assistants?

A huge reason for the shift towards digital assistants is the way user demands are changing. In today’s tech-centric society, speed, practicality, and functionality are continually optimized, and people are demanding convenience from their devices. Using voice to perform searches and accomplish tasks is the most intuitive user interface available, and as a result, voice technology is becoming the next interaction point for businesses.

How will Digital Assistants Impact Your Startup?

The capabilities of voice assistants are still growing, but soon they will occupy the role of a digital employee. In the office, digital assistants can be used to complement the work of human employees by taking responsibility for repetitive, time-consuming tasks and allowing employees to focus their energy on high-priority projects.

Data Management and Surfacing

A major advantage of digital assistants is their ability to manage, analyze and retrieve massive amounts of data. Taking this responsibility off of human hands will make offices more productive overall.

For example, digital assistants can transcribe meeting notes with higher accuracy than the average human. The assistant can even participate in meetings to a certain extent by surfacing relevant data and insights when requested. Digital assistants reduce fiction against information access, making meetings more data-driven and efficient overall.

Meeting Automation

Digital assistants can improve and simplify the corporate meeting experience beyond scheduling. With voice technology, users can control meeting hardware with their voice.

Amazon’s Alexa for Business is dramatically simplifying the corporate meeting process. Employees have to say “Alexa, start the meeting,” and they can begin. Using a digital assistant to manage meetings eliminates the need for bridge numbers and passcodes, and will start video conferences automatically, which saves valuable time for everyone involved.

Improved Functionality

Digital assistants are more intelligent than ever. This year at Google I/O, the company announced several new features for Google Assistant and demonstrated how the device is becoming more naturally conversational. The assistant’s voice now resembles human speech more closely down to the pitch, pace, and every pause that conveys meaning. These improvements are big news for businesses.

Many of the new features available on Google Assistant make the device more natural to use in a business context. Users no longer need to say “Hey, Google” to initiate additional actions and the assistant can recognize when users are addressing the device versus other people in the room. As well, the device can digest and respond to multiple and conflicting requests at once.

Google is also working on Google Duplex, and while this feature has no release date yet, startups should begin preparing now.

Even in 2018, many businesses have no online booking system in place. With Google Duplex, a digital assistant can make phone calls and book appointments without at any indication of the AI at play. From a business perspective, it won’t be long before startups are using this feature to multitask and save time.

The Future of Digital Assistants

We are at a pivotal reflection point for technology. Digital assistants are going to have a major impact on the way businesses interact with technology and collaborate internally. Innovative decision makers will have to determine how to deliver the benefits of this new technology across every device, from smart speaker to mobile apps.