JLL creates ‘smart office’ AI voice assistant

The real estate firm partnered with Google to compete with a range of conversational AI assistants entering the workplace, from Alexa to Cortana.

JiLL app

Commercial real estate firm JLL has partnered with Google to create a conversational AI assistant that helps employees locate and book spare desks, set up meetings with colleagues and more. 

Dubbed JiLL, the smart office assistant will be available for JLL’s customers as Android and iOS mobile apps later this year. Users can invoke the assistant with the phrase “Hey Jill,” by inputting text, or tapping on options.

The AI assistant is the product of the recently launched JLL Labs, a Silicon Valley development hub tasked with creating new digital services as a range of “proptech” startups threaten to disrupt the market. Development of JiLL was led by JLL’s chief digital product officer Vinay Goel, who joined from Google last year after 11 years as a product manager on services such as Google Maps.  

JiLL is built on Google’s cloud infrastructure, and relies on the Dialogflow conversational AI platform.

The aim is to provide staffers with the same digital tools they are accustomed to in their personal lives – a growing focus for businesses looking to improve the workplace. A quarter of digital workers will use a virtual employee assistant on a daily basis by 2021, according to Gartner.

“In the enterprise, you have all of these siloed applications that don't talk to each other and have very disparate user interfaces. You feel like you are moving backwards when you want to work versus when you are at home,” Goel said in an interview. 

“We wanted to bring the consumer experience to work,” Goel said. “We think of JiLL as being the assistant that you have in your consumer life, whether through Alexa or Google Assistant, and we want to essentially recreate that experience with JiLL in the workplace.”

Users can interact with JiLL in several ways. One is to arrange meetings with colleagues. JiLL will integrate with calendar apps in Microsoft Office 365 and Google’s G Suite and allow users to check daily availability before scheduling a meeting. JiLL can also send tickets to inform facilities staff about broken equipment, for example, integrating with work order management systems. 

The technology can also find and book desk space. Shared desk setups are becoming more popular as employees work remotely, but this can lead to underutilization of costly workspaces, said Goel. JiLL will make it easier for employees to reserve a desk in a shared space by hooking into reservation systems and making use of JLL’s real estate data. 

In the future, JiLL could integrate with a wider range of business applications to gather data from an HR platform such as Workday, or CRM and ERP tools, said Goel.

AI assistants enter the workplace

JiLL will compete with a variety of consumer AI assistants that are making their way into the office in various forms. Amazon hopes to introduce Echo devices to corporate environments with Alexa for Business, while Cisco’s Webex Assistant is aimed at streamlining the meeting experience. And Google has started to integrate its Assistant with its own productivity and collaboration tools.

There are currently no plans to integrate JiLL with consumer voice assistants however.

Many business software vendors – Salesforce’s Einstein and SAP’s CoPilot, for instance – have  embedded voice assistants in their apps, too. Microsoft also appears to be targeting Cortana predominantly at its Office apps.

Demand for intelligent conversation assistance in the workplace is “growing rapidly,” said Dave Schubmehl, a research director at IDC.

“IDC is seeing digital assistants in general, and conversational assistants in particular, begin to proliferate in all sorts of enterprise applications ranging from collaboration and ERP to customer call centers and automated marketing and sales,” said Schubmehl.

“As the connected worker’s technology expectations change, the market for these devices will eventually become expected in conference rooms, your office and your phone,” said Wayne Kurtzman, also a research director at IDC. “Integration within collaboration solutions will also be the norm – once security and governance solutions become standard.”

Goel said JiLL’s advantage over competing digital assistants lies in JLL’s access to data relating to its core business, such as a customer’s office building floor plans.

“The underlying factor in our differentiation is that today we have a lot of the data that many of these other systems don’t,” said Goel. Another advantage is that JiLL is smartphone-based, so it doesn’t require additional hardware investment. However, JLL may consider integrating JiLL with smart speakers down the road. 

JLL is currently trialling JiLL internally at its Chicago, IL and Menlo Park, CA offices, ahead of a beta rollout to customers later this summer. General availability is expected later this year; pricing has not yet been announced.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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