Technology is shaping the outsourcing industry in both disruptive and subtle ways, and this is also true for the personal assistant/virtual assistant outsourcing segment. In addition to skills shortages, pressure to reduce costs and regulatory changes, advanced machine learning is transforming the personal assistant industry. Here are some of the personal assistant outsourcing trends and focus areas that the industry should expect this second quarter of 2016 and the next few years:
Analysts say that growing incomes and lack of time are driving the rise of household outsourcing. As people juggle the demands of busy careers and family life, they are using their income to make their lives easier. Some of the most commonly outsourced household services include planning, organizing, and financial consultancy. Personal assistant providers that target busy families are offering lifestyle management solutions like shopping, event planning, and helping with to-do lists.
In the coming years, analysts expect more companies to emerge that offer a wide range of personal assistance services. More companies will also leverage technology to provide a simple and quick experience.
The short-term outlook for healthcare staffing providers is very bright. According to a report by Staffing Industry Analysts, U.S. healthcare staffing revenue is expected to reach a record high of $12.7 billion in 2015. Healthcare staffing services will “desperately need” workers in 2016 due to regulatory changes like the Affordable Care Act, but demand will moderate in 2017. Users of healthcare staffing services are expected to pay more for qualified workers.
The aging population in developed countries like the U.S. and U.K. is expected to increase the demand for personal assistance services in the next few decades. According to studies, the number of people needing personal assistance services will reach 27 million by 2050. Next year, healthcare organizations, SMBs and individuals will continue to work with third parties to fill skill gaps, improve scalability, reduce costs and meet changing staffing needs. Third parties providing contract-based personal assistance services will continue to be popular as a cost-effective alternative to full-time support staff.
More businesses will adopt next generation recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) solutions in 2016. Even smaller businesses are looking for RPO solutions, particularly in the engineering and life science sectors. More employers are also using temporary managed services solutions for blue-collar workers to drive process efficiencies and reduce costs. This year, organizations will continue to seek flexible headcounts and work with both long-term and temporary staff. Third party staffing providers will also hire people on a permanent and contract basis. Virtual assistants, personal assistants and administrative staff must be open to these flexible arrangements if they want a wider range of hiring opportunities.
Virtual staff with experience in mobile applications and devices will be in demand in 2016 as end users live increasingly digital lives. Personal assistants that can easily navigate an ecosystem of mobile apps will improve the speed and quality of their services. Employers expect their VAs to be familiar with common social media and networking tools, especially those that hire VAs to create/moderate web content or update blogs and social media accounts.
In 2016, content marketing using videos and social media is expected to grow, requiring VAs and assistants to be familiar with video sharing sites and video editing tools. For personal assistants looking to work with executives, an understanding of enterprise software and data analytics tools is a big plus. In the coming years, VAs and personal assistants will need to take on more sophisticated tasks that only humans can perform, as routine, low-level tasks will be increasingly automated or delegated to robots.
In the past few years, the focus has been on hiring virtual assistants located in low-cost areas, usually offshore. The offshoring of VA services is expected to continue in 2016 due to cost-reduction pressures across the board.
Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs)
In the coming years, the industry should expect software assistants to manage multiple applications and provide services that are more attuned to the needs of the end user.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are only getting better with time, and companies are investing significantly in these areas. The main focus is for digital assistants to use data stored in devices to make proactive recommendations instead of simply responding to queries. Some startups are combining humans and algorithms to provide a better experience for smartphone users.
In the next five years, Gartner says that intelligent assistants and agents will have more dynamic interfaces and perform contextual actions. However, the concept of autonomous agents is a long-term phenomenon that will continue to evolve in the next two decades. While VPAs are improving every day, experts say that most human personal assistants don’t need to worry about being replaced by robots.
Today’s VPAs mainly provide a hands-free way to retrieve information from the Internet and from consumer data, but digital assistants still have a hard time completing complex tasks like selecting the best restaurant for an anniversary dinner or booking a flight. This is not stopping some firms from using artificial intelligence platforms to take on low-level admin tasks. For example, an oil services company is testing a VPA called Amelia that answers invoice and payment questions via instant messenger. Artificial intelligence that handles routine tasks is not designed to replace human workers; the goal is to free up time for human VAs to do what only humans can do. Until companies create digital assistants that excel at judgment-based tasks, human personal and virtual assistants will always be in demand.
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