By Peter Frankl.

Talking to a computer is not new. Issuing voice commands to operate software is not new either. You might already be taking advantage of this type of functionality with your smartphone. What is new is a growing realisation of where this is heading and what its implications are for learning how to operate software.

I was invited to attend VANTAGE, the Thomson Reuters Elite user conference, which was held in Sydney this month. My report on the conference is being prepared. Elite is the Thomson Reuters division that produces software for large professional services firms. 

Amongst all the news about features and product road-maps for its financial and practice management software, there was a short interlude to demonstrate something completely different.

Elisabet Hardy of Elite performed a time entry by having a conversation with an Amazon Alexa device. A similar demonstration is shown in the video below. Elite has named this set-up, Workspace Assistant. Workspace is a user interface for time recording, reporting and an ever-expanding range of other functionality.

The responses from Alexa were a little on the slow side and there were noticeable pauses in its responses to Elisabet. Nonetheless, the demonstration lit up the audience. Why should that be so, when the concept of talking to your phone or computer is not new?

Probably, not many in the audience had seen this type of functionality work with a piece of serious enterprise financial software like Elite 3E. 

At the conclusion of the demonstration, Elisabet, almost in passing, said that no changes to Elite’s software were made. That is the key point of this potential revolution. 

Alexa learned how to do a time entry in Workspace. I don’t know how. A combination of hardware, software, artificial intelligence and machine learning most likely.

The implications are that a person who needs to do a time entry does not have to learn where to point the mouse, which menu to navigate, what to click and in which order. This could be a signpost for the end of training for software users – at least for those who will use a device like Alexa.

It may not be the end of software training altogether – just for people. Alexa will still need to be trained. Software will learn how to use other software. 

It now appears to be much more plausible that there will one day be something that we can call “hands free lawyers”. This will also transform user training. We’ve seen driverless cars and now driverless enterprise software.

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