AI technology is fast becoming ubiquitous across industries, changing the way organizations process and manage data, communicate with clients, and optimize marketing. However, while AI is a mainstay for businesses, autonomous workplace assistants are less familiar.
What Are Autonomous Workplace Assistants?
According to Forrester Research Group, autonomous workplace assistants (AWAs) are “a form of intelligent agents that can make decisions, act without approval, and perform a service based on environment, context, user input, and learning in support of workplace goals.” AWAs can function without central orchestration, prompted to act “by events or observed changes in the environment.”
While many task-oriented assistants are used today, they are limited to performing simple chores that have definable returns, like adding email addresses to a database. These types of assistants do not require human aid to complete their work, but they also cannot learn or improve their work processes.
Unlike task-oriented assistants, collaborative assistants often do require a human in their workflow. Collaborative assistants use AI and ML to provide guidance and recommendations, but they mostly can’t advance their processes to increasingly higher levels of sophistication. A common example of a collaborative assistant is a customer service chat agent that follows up on customer concerns after a process of narrowing down a customer’s needs.
AWAs stand out from prior types of assistants in that they combine AI and ML’s decision management with robotic process automation (RPA). This integration introduces human-like characteristics that are advanced enough to make decisions, complete multi-step processes, and detect and solve errors without human involvement.
“AWAs … inform the environment of their goals and needs and work out the details independently,” according to Forrester.
Most importantly, AWAs can learn and improve with each task they run.
What Can We Expect from Autonomous Workplace Assistants?
Despite being a relatively new technology, Forrester expects AWAs to rapidly gain traction. They are already being used successfully by healthcare companies, financial firms, insurance agencies, and manufacturers.
IT pros are likely encountering AWAs today in the form of IT help desk and digital employee experience tools, as well as assistants that can monitor an employee’s laptop, scan for issues, and even order replacement parts through a company’s purchasing system.
However, there are challenges that AWA technology must overcome before it is a mainstay in enterprises. “AWAs weave together automations …but are nascent technology,” said Craig Le Claire, Forrester vice president and principal analyst. “Better integration of key automation building blocks will be required for AWAs to proliferate. [In order to] make AWAs successful, they must adjust the degree of autonomy to resolve trust issues.”
The rapid progression of automation such as generative AI will push enterprises to give AWAs more responsibility than is wise and cause random acts of automation, Le Claire added. “The degree of autonomy should be an adjustment,” he said. “In addition, the level and quality of advice given to humans should not overwhelm them or reduce their self-esteem. Autos with self-driving support allow the driver to choose a level of autonomy they are comfortable with. AWAs should do the same.”
IT pros can expect AWAs to lessen their workloads when it comes to Level 1 support duties, but this work will be replaced with AWA maintenance and enhancement. “[IT pros] will need to gain skills in today’s loosely coupled automation technologies, such as [natural language processing], RPA, [digital process automation], low-code tools, AIOps, and AI building blocks, to build AWAs,” LeClaire said.