Updated: Feb 23
Imagine a world where you had a digital personal assistant that you could access with voice commands from wherever you are through any internet-connected device, and it would handle all of your online interactions.
This world is becoming a reality, and it’s not just useful for care consumers - care providers have a real opportunity to be early adopters. So how can your care organisation get in on the action? That’s what I’m going to talk about today.
The Rise of Digital Personal Assistants
Before we can understand how digital personal assistants work, let’s talk about some of the factors that are causing digital personal assistants to become so important today, and even more so as we get into the next couple of years.
Rise of Internet-Connected Devices
A major trend that’s happening is the fantastic rise of new types of devices that are internet connected, and that’s where we get into the Internet of Things (IoT).
So, all the devices that we think of as being internet connected today will be a small minority of the total number of internet connected devices. Think about that for a second: An internet-enabled TV, a thermostat, a refrigerator, your car. These are places where you’re not typing something, so as they get more sophisticated, your primary interaction will be voice-based.
This becomes a really important concept because it leads to a world in which interactions won’t happen through a browser. You won’t conduct your search, for the most part, through search boxes in a browser window. You’ll be using voice commands to talk to your personal assistant and get answers.
In this world, you can seamlessly move about and your assistant will be wherever you are, from your home to your car, and it will be able to pick up the conversation where it left off previously.
For example, you want to check your care plan activities for today. So, you just say, “OK Google” or "Alexa" and you’re personal assistant wakes up to the internet, and allows you to check your care plan and reminds you of the in-completed tasks to ensure care plan adherence.
You realise you haven’t actually setup a new dentist appointment and the required transportation. Your voice assistant sends a message to the care organisation to arrange your request, and they put the appointments on your calendar. Next time you check your schedule it will remind you on the transport pick-up time, and the meeting with the dentist.
This is the concept of the digital personal assistant—connectivity through any internet-connected device. Ideally, this personal assistant will be able to handle a tremendous amount of stuff for users online—without the user ever having to type in a query into a search bar.
Now, this only works if the various personal assistant providers have established connectivity through a lot of different hardware devices, and also have wired into a large array of different services and apps.
This is where the market is going, and this is the reason why companies such as Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung all are investing heavily in personal assistant technology.
This is also why there is a great deal of opportunity in the arena of creating Voice assistant apps, and some care providers are jumping on board early to tap into this burgeoning market.
Smart Speakers That Host Personal Digital Assistants
Part of the IoT space that may not be as familiar to some yet is the category of smart speakers. Smart speakers are standalone devices that you leave at home or in the office or anywhere that you want to interact with your personal assistant.
Examples of smart speakers include the Amazon Echo device, which has a software application in it that uses a personal assistant called Alexa. Then, there’s the Google Home device, which has the Google Assistant running on it.
Smart speakers haven’t been around that long, but the forecasts say that there will be more than 100 million of these smart speakers installed in the United States by 2024, or roughly 30 percent of the US population, which is an amazing rate of penetration for such a new category of device.
To put that in context, look at the rate of adoption of technology over history in our civilisation. The telephone took 110 years to reach a billion users. The television did it in a lot less time—only 49 years. Things like smartphones and Facebook took eight years. It does not look like smart speakers by themselves will grow to 1 billion devices in 8 years, but they’re clearly growing very fast.
But, they do feed into the adoption rate of digital personal assistants, and I do believe that the category of digital personal assistants could grow to a billion in eight years. That is a pretty dramatic shift in the landscape.
It’s for all these reasons that I believe this is an extremely important category for care organisations to pay attention to.
Apps for Digital Personal Assistants
Building an app for one of these assistants can provide great value to your target audience, and provide strong exposure for your brand.
"The rapid growth of voice search is driving the rush to create digital personal assistants."
With the IoT comes the opportunity for brands to create applications that run on personal assistants. To create an application for Amazon’s Echo device and the Alexa personal assistant, you would pursue what’s called Alexa Skills. For the Google Assistant (including the Google Home device), you would develop what’s called Actions on Google.
As a care provider you can build your own “skills” or “actions” and plug into the Google Home and Amazon Echo ecosystems.
As an organisation, you have an opportunity to be a pretty early adopter in a space that looks like it’s going to be extremely strong and important for service providers.
At eHomeCare, we built Voice assistant apps that allows a person with dementia to live independently as it can coordinate care remotely, and reminds and assists in making choices in health, safety and social inclusion.
Once you’ve built your app, you need to test it. To do that, you connect to your Google/Amazon device in “test mode.” This means it’s not available to the world yet, but simply running locally for you. You can debug your app quite easily with this until you’re happy with the results.
That means, there is a very large opportunity to jump onboard with these types of apps now. The risk is that if you wait too long, and you’ll get behind you’re competition.
Hubert van Dalen is Managing Director of eHomeCare, who advise and supply technology solutions for the care sector.