Many of us in the workforce, myself included, get stuck operating in patterns. These patterns may be effective in the here and now, but as a leader, you can’t help but question whether they’re enough.
Is our technology reaching the right people? Are we making our customers’ jobs as easy as possible? Every day, my office is buzzing with smart people building tools that help companies operate more efficiently. But despite the progress I see, there’s always something in the back of my mind pushing for more.
Information access isn’t the same as it used to be — smartphones, apps, and devices linked to the internet of things are available at our fingertips. With consumer technology moving a mile a minute, maybe there’s another approach, both internally and for our customers, that could flip office life on its head.
Moving out of our lane
Over the past few years, we’ve all witnessed the rise of the Amazon Echo and Google Home, and we’ve seen brands slowly integrate with virtual assistants like Alexa. These devices are most popular for helping consumers do things like order a large Domino’s pizza without picking up the phone, so it’s no surprise that executives have been slow to find practical value for these in the workplace. However, I started to wonder: If someone can program Alexa to order pizza, what’s stopping an analytics firm from integrating Alexa into everyday operations? Maybe we don’t need to deliver business analytics exclusively in charts and graphs, the long-accepted form of consuming analytics. Instead, we could weave analytics into voice-enabled devices.
For me, the path forward became clear. For the first time, I was able to recognize that what once lived exclusively on a screen could exist in a speaker sitting on my desk. Our team of software developers and engineers began tinkering with the latest consumer technology to give leaders across industries a new way to consume analytics. As a result, we were able to show that besides enabling late-night food orders for the office or a last-minute birthday gift off Amazon, these devices could make the lives of executives and everyday workers a little bit easier.
It’s the little things and the big
The potential I’ve seen for business-oriented Alexa integrations are twofold: The little things don’t pile up like they used to, and the big things become a whole lot more feasible. Minor tasks like granting access to files, sending expense reports, or searching for a file you created last month typically take more time than we care to admit. But accomplishing these tasks via voice command can cut some of the daily frustrations we’ve become accustomed to and return flexibility to your schedule.
When it comes to the big stuff, the impact is even more prevalent. For example, if you lead a global sales team and need to pull profitability numbers before your next meeting, your answer could be a few words away: “Hey Alexa, what’s our profitability in North America today?” Alexa could respond, “Profitability in North America is up 3 percent from yesterday, on pace for monthly goals.” Today, we can accomplish in a matter of seconds tasks that once required cross-referencing documents and meetings with managers.
Even better, these productivity shortcuts don’t just exist on an individual level but can boost productivity across offices or regions. For instance, when Alexa pulls today’s productivity numbers for your D.C. office and you learn that it was down 15 percent, she can immediately schedule a meeting with the vice president in charge to address productivity concerns and make systematic change.
The value here isn’t restricted to the C-suites of massive organizations, either. If you’re a marketing manager at a midsize company, you can ask Alexa “What was our market share in October 2017?” and immediately learn that it was 20 percent higher than in October 2016. Next, Alexa can relay the good news to all of your direct reports — no formal emails or meetings necessary.
Making an impact in unexpected places
None of these capabilities are innate to Alexa, but trust me, the possibility is there. Tinkering with consumer toys isn’t something I expected out of my tenure at MicroStrategy. However, we’re in an age of innovation where the best business leaders are those who get answers quickly and easily through traditional and new means.
What I’ve started to realize is that the effort to improve efficiency in a modern organization can’t be restricted to dashboards, laptops, or even smartphones for that matter. As consumer devices make advanced technology more approachable, voice-enabled shortcuts will become more accessible, quite literally at the tip of your tongue. Many enterprises have the IT talent to create these integrations, and it’s about time more companies rethink how to best support today’s leaders. The faster they catch on, the quicker systems like Alexa will become truly indispensable.
Tim Lang is senior executive vice president and chief technology officer of MicroStrategy Incorporated, a company that provides easy-to-use data dashboards fed from 70+ data sources.