What’s happening this week at the intersection of management and technology.
Virtual reality could be the new reality at work: The demand for the free Samsung Gear VR headsets offered in a recent promotion was so high that the consumer electronics giant won’t be able to deliver them for months. Yet, as hot as the consumer market for VR gear appears to be, the business market may outstrip it.
“We totally underestimated the commercial interest in this thing,” Microsoft CMO Chris Capossela said at a company-sponsored developer conference in early April. It turns out that much of the early interest in Microsoft’s HoloLens VR headsets has come from companies like Lowe’s, Saab, and Volvo. That fact, reports editor Todd Bishop in GeekWire, caused Microsoft to shift the initial focus of HoloLens from gaming to business applications.
How can you transform work and improve performance with VR? Editor-at-large Lance Ulanoff described one application in an article for Mashable. With Microsoft’s support, a VR developer named 8ninths teamed up with Citigroup to reinvent the workstations used by futures traders. 8ninth’s Holographic Workstation integrates the real and the virtual worlds. When traders put on VR headsets, they see the desk and “a bird's eye view of the market up top, with colored balls floating in a cloud pattern. Bigger ones mean more trading activity,” explains Ulanoff. The system also places information in space to prioritize it for traders. For example, writes Ulanoff, it puts “near-term stuff closer and information for months away in the virtual back row.”
Chatbots on the frontlines of customer service: Mark Zuckerberg, whose ascension to gurudom over the past couple of years really should be a mandatory case study for CEOs, made headlines last week with an oblique takedown of Donald Trump that was delivered to a couple of thousand software developers. But the really big news in the junior statesman’s address was about chatbots! Yep, a few days later, Facebook began providing 50 million companies the tools needed to use chatbots to sell their products and services to the users of its Messenger app.
Contributing editor John Brandon pegged the importance of this in Inc. He labeled 2016 the year of the chatbots — because the technology that enables them is good enough, because customers are willing to deal with them, and most importantly, because companies need them. “Businesses of all sizes provide customer service the way we have always done it: A person responds by email, voice, text, or on social media. But thousands and thousands of requests go unanswered or misunderstood,” he explains. “In the same way robotic technology can look in all directions at once around a car and never gets tired or irritable, a chatbot can field questions at all hours of the day and answer the same question about an iPhone case over and over again.”
Chatbots won’t replace people, according to Brandon. In the short term, it’s more likely that they will pick up the slack on rote tasks, and, with any luck, free human customer service reps to solve tough problems and build and nurture customer loyalty.
Designing enterprise apps that employees will use: We oughta have an app for that! If you haven’t heard that said in a staff meeting yet, you probably will soon. “Enterprise mobile apps have taken off,” reports senior writer Sarah White in CIO. Among the reasons that there is 5 times more demand than resources for enterprise apps: More and more employees are bringing their personal devices to work, app development is easier than ever, and the corporate IT police are loosening the shackles of control a bit.
The challenge in designing enterprise apps, however, is the same challenge faced in the consumer arena: The user experience rules. Employees want apps that are simple, work well, and offer some value to them. United Airlines came up with one for its flight attendants, according to White. It uses the same seating chart we use to book a ticket online, but instead of a seat number, the attendants see the passenger’s name and personal info, like birthday, allowing them to personalize interactions.
White also rounds up some expert advice on how to make sure that app you oughta have is an app that employees will actually use. One tip is to combine the business case with the user case. App design should not only consider the company’s needs, it should also make the employee’s job easier. Another tip is to invest in professional design. Everybody uses apps these days, so even when employees can’t articulate exactly what they want, they’ll know — and quickly reject — a poorly-constructed UX. Finally, writes White, “even enterprise apps need a go-to-market strategy; you need to promote it, encourage engagement, and accept feedback.”