Virtual Digital Assistants in Enterprise Software: The Journey to No Clicks

Instead of manually executing tasks with a mouse or touch screen, why not speak them? We already see this in the consumer realm with smartphones, and in the warehouse too with voice picking technologies. It’s only a question of time before speech recognition gets embedded into other enterprise and supply chain applications. A TMS user, for example, can say to the system, “Show me all uncovered loads,” or an inventory manager can ask, “Which stores have less than three days inventory of product X?” and up come the results on the screen.

I wrote that back in 2013 under the banner of “Siri Comes to Enterprise Apps.” The migration from traditional user interfaces to chatbots and virtual digital assistants in the enterprise software space hasn’t been as fast as I had predicted, but we keep moving forward, nonetheless.

In 2016, for example, as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

UPS joined a variety of companies in sectors ranging from financial services to airlines that are betting on customers interacting with artificially intelligent virtual assistants that mimic human conversation, called “chatbots.”

Customers of UPS can now ask the chatbot to find nearby UPS locations, calculate shipping rates and show the location of a package.

Then came Infor, which at its 2017 user conference introduced Coleman, “an enterprise-grade, industry-specific AI platform for Infor CloudSuite applications [that] mines data and uses powerful machine learning to improve processes such as inventory management, transportation routing, and predictive maintenance; Coleman also provides AI-driven recommendations and advice to enable users to make smarter business decisions more quickly.” You can watch a demo of Coleman in this YouTube video.

In 2018, as reported by Reuters, XPO Logistics “unveiled voice-enabled delivery tracking through Inc’s Echo or Alphabet Inc’s Google Home speakers.” According to the article:

XPO believes it is the first large delivery and warehousing company in the world to offer consumers the ability to get delivery tracking updates, or schedule and reschedule deliveries, using smart speakers, the company said at a conference in Atlanta.

When accessing Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant, a person’s voice command to reschedule his or her delivery would trigger changes in XPO’s internal logistics tracking and dispatching software, Harik said. The new delivery time would be reflected on the truck driver’s mobile app, he said.

The latest example is Oracle, which introduced the Oracle Logistics Digital Assistant last week. Here are some excerpts from the announcement:

Your customers and employees now have easy, on-the-go access to order status and shipment tracking without having to navigate through the Oracle Transportation Management (OTM) application or understand complicated data mappings. The Oracle Logistics Digital Assistant provides you and your authorized users with a conversational interface that responds quickly, improves user satisfaction, and increases business efficiencies.

With [Oracle Logistics Digital Assistant] capability you can:

– Get easy access to order and shipment information on mobile devices
– Send requests using text or speech
– Get an overview of all in-transit orders instantly
– Drill down to see order and shipment details
– Obtain latest status and location based on GPS updates sent to OTM

For more info, watch this short video and take the Guided Quick Tour that demonstrates the digital assistant’s out-of-the-box core capabilities.

Back in 2013, I wrote another related post that asked “Will Supply Chain Software Vendors Start Competing On Design?” What I wrote at the time remains true today:

Software vendors and customers need to think beyond features and functions. Of course, evaluating whether a software application meets your functional requirements remains critically important. But after that list has been checked off, you need to give equal time and consideration to evaluating the user experience. 

Yes, just like manufacturers and retailers are starting to compete on delivering an enhanced customer experience, so will enterprise software vendors. “It used to be that executing a task with 1 click was better than 5 clicks,” said Fab Brasca from Blue Yonder at the 2016 Kenco Customer Summit, “but moving forward, no clicks will be better than 1 click.”

For more of my thoughts on this topic, including my view of what makes an ideal UI and the role of mobile, social networking, maps, and voice recognition, watch “Why User Interfaces For Supply Chain Software Are Getting A Makeover.”