Automated Accountants: Personal Assistant Technology

We can use personal assistant technology bots to use context and intelligence to provide a natural interface and increase participation in our cloud applications.

robot-accountantIn my house, Alexa (aka Amazon Echo) is part of the family.  My young children check the weather whilst eating their breakfast, see how their favorite sports teams are doing, get some jokes, movie times and anything that pops into their head they will just “Ask Alexa”.  They also have a lot of fun seeing how Apple’s Siri and Alexa answer the same questions and which works better for what.  Observing these interactions and interacting myself has been a very good hands on research exercise and I have been thinking for a while of enterprise applications.

We can use personal assistant technology bots to use context and intelligence to provide a natural interface and increase participation in our cloud applications.We can increase participation on two groups of users

  • Casual Users
    • They have infrequent and limited interactions with the applications and do not have the time, or the training and familiarity with the capabilities to participate effectively.  They don’t know what information they can get, never mind how to get it.
  • Power Users
    • For these users it is about reducing the time it takes to do highly repetitive or UI intensive tasks.  This is like me at home getting sports scores or weather from Amazon Echo, I could easily look it up on my phone but it is easier to just say “Alexa, weather” whilst I am pouring my coffee.

I put together a team to enter a hackothon by our UX innovation team last month and we tried to focus on the former use case.  A high level manager who is very busy, runs a team of 50-100 people and manages to budgets but does not have a secretary.  We imagined her wanting to know details of budgets and implemented three flows

  1. Inquiry on remaining budget
  2. Details of who spent a budget on what
  3. Transfer funds from one budget to another (say from travel to computer hardware)

We spent a lot of time trying to make the interactions as natural as possible, so getting the natural language trained correctly was key and we also wanted to use Amazon Echo, IM and SMS messages to interact with the live data in an ERP Cloud environment.

It was a great experience and we learned a lot technically. but probably more of a revelation was the different design strategy for these types of interaction.  The other teams also did some amazing things(read the event review here) so we were pleased to pick up third place overall and the People’s Choice Award (voted on by all the participants).

I fully expect Automated Personal Assistants to be a key interaction model for Enterprise applications going forward, just as we are seeing them start to take off in the consumer space.   Exciting times.

A week with Apple Watch: From Cynic to Believer

I had convinced myself the Apple Watch was an overpriced fitness band and that it wasn’t for me and was set to get a Garmin to track my running instead. Then out of the blue I was given an Apple Watch. So you can certainly put me down as a cynic, but I certainly like to think I am open minded, so here are my thoughts after a week with the watch.

I had convinced myself the Apple Watch was an overpriced fitness band and that it wasn’t for me and was set to get a Garmin to track my running instead.  Then out of the blue I was given an Apple Watch.  So you can certainly put me down as a cynic, but I certainly like to think I am open minded, so here are my thoughts after a week with the watch.

The experience of getting it set up was surprisingly frustrating, I had to upgrade my phone to iOS 8 before I could activate the watch and that meant deleting things to free a few Gb of memory (to upgrade my Operating System, really?).  So everything had to wait until after I got home and backed up my phone.

First I got this rather cool visual on my watch to scan with the phone and then it was paired and I got this screen telling me the model that I had bought.  OK so I still could not get the time from this watch and I have had the thing all day, I’m getting a little impatient at this point.

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After waiting about 5 minutes for it to synch, suddenly a load of my apps, including my email, texts, calendar, twitter fitness apps and more are available on my watch.  This is about to get interesting.

The first thing I noticed is that it is actually really easy to ready and see at a glance the notifications that are sent to your watch, such as Calendar reminders, text messages and Oracle Social Network updates (glad to see we are quick to the new platform with our own mobile apps).  This is good for me, I get a lot of these alerts and I found a glance at my wrist was much nicer than pulling out my phone and unlocking it and starting at it.  This sounds like a very small thing, but it is these small improvements in frequent interactions that make for a great user experience.  I also agree with Jeremy Ashley about the huge value in being able to retain eye contact, notifications on my watch are far less obtrusive and the glance at my wrist it is a great experience.

So I wanted to try using it for some different things so I decided to test out text messages first, a quick SMS to respond to my wife’s text ‘ETA?’ to let her know what time I am planning to get home.

My wife and I prefer very efficient communications.
My wife and I prefer very efficient communications.

So I tap once on that nice Reply button

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I can now either pick from a set of pre-defined responses and they would be sent without any other interaction from me. However I like the personal touch, this is my wife after all, so I decide I will click on the microphone icon to dictate a response.  I speak in my answer and see the sound wave at the bottom and the text comes up perfectly first time.

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So now I click done and get a really option to either send the audio or to just tap on the text and send that.  This is a great feature if maybe the voice to text didn’t work properly and I don’t want to waste time correcting it or speaking it again.

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After tapping on the text I am now done.  The whole interaction was very fast and felt very natural.  At this point I am really starting to like the Apple Watch.  In the next few days I try driving directions, twitter, my calendar, a variety of fitness apps and more and pretty much across the board I find the interactions are natural and quick and the fact I have to pull out my phone less is a much bigger deal than I expected.  I find I can glance down at my watch see a text or meeting reminder and carry on a conversation in a way that was not really possible if I had to pull my phone out.  The one app I haven’t yet mentioned is the time, I haven’t worn a watch for over 10 years and I have realized in the last week it’s much easier to glance at my wrist than to pull out my phone – who knew?

This is Your Brain on Walking Meetings

Your Brain on Walking MeetingsSince I started regular walking meetings at the beginning of the year, I have been surprised at the interest and response I’ve had.  My previous co-worker from the early AGIS days, Jake Kuramoto (now of TheAppsLab fame) penned a nice blog post about it, called Good Idea: Walking Meetings.  I was interviewed by @Ultan from the Oracle UX team for the Usable Apps Blog, which included a picture of myself walking with Floyd Teter, of ORCLville fame, who is a long time walking meetings proponent and gave me some encouragement and advice.  I was also interviewed for a travel magazine, for a June edition, so we will see if I survive the editing process and make it into that article.

This article from @thefastcompany, which had the picture above really resonated with me.  I feel my meetings are more productive when walking; I seem to be able to remember things without referring to lists or taking notes and the conversations flow faster.  the picture might give a clue why.  I had a great phone conversation with Russell Clayton (@ProfessorRWC) after commenting on his great piece on Harvard Business Review blog about exercise promoting work-life balance.  He is also interested in the how walking meetings can promote better working, I am looking forward to hear more from him on that, because I have anecdotal evidence, but would be interested in scientific research on that aspect of walking meetings.

Finally, the most pleasing aspect has been the response from my team and my colleagues.  The enthusiasm and encouragement from them has made it a really positive experience.

So if you haven’t tried them yet, give it a go and tweet your experience and pictures using the hashtag #walkingmeetings