Oracle launches digital assistant that can integrate multiple apps

The Oracle Digital Assistant can combine skills from various enterprise applications into a single chatbot

Credit: Magdalena Petrova

Oracle has unveiled the new Oracle Digital Assistant, an AI-powered chatbot that companies can use to quickly build their own personalised virtual assistants with conversational interfaces and built-in machine learning to understand interactions.

The assistant can unify different domain skills from multiple applications including HR, enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and customer experience (CX) rather than serving a single purpose as is typically the case with chatbots.

Enterprises can deploy the assistants on websites, mobile apps, messaging apps and smart speakers to communicate with customers or allow employees to automate routine tasks such as expense approvals and meeting reschedules. It learns from their behaviour to get smarter with use and automate routine tasks proactively.

The assistant is platform-agnostic and equally optimised for Slack, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Alexa and other popular third-party products. 

In a keynote speech at the Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco, Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison gave a demonstration of the assistant, using it to email a colleague, find out how much annual leave he had left, and to parse an image of a receipt for a meal at Nobu to identify the cost, attendees, location and time and report that the price was higher than his average dinner.

"You can get very complicated transactions and very complicated dialogue, but it can also do some of the simple tedious things that you hate doing like tracking down this person I need to talk to now ... and you'll be able to do this while looking at analytics," he said.

Power of the voice

Ellison's demo gave him another chance to take yet another jab at Amazon when Alexa was slow to respond to one of his requests.

"Jeff Bezos is watching this demo - 'just shut it down!'", joked Ellison, who added that he had an Alexa in almost every room in his house.

Read next: Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison slams AWS for security, cost and performance

Despite the hiccup, Oracle CEO Mark Hurd said that the addition of voice would vastly expand access to data across the enterprise.

"Layering voice on top of Oracle applications puts vital real-time data once only accessible to those who knew how to craft a query in the hands of decision makers any time anywhere – just by asking. That's a huge advantage," he claimed in a tweet.

Ellison said that the system's ease-of-use makes it accessible for all employees without the need for any training.

"The ability to collaborate throughout the company and the ease with which can use the system and talk to other people and ask questions is a radical change [over] how systems have been used before," he said.

Further announcements hint at Oracle strategy 

Oracle also announced Fusion Analytics Data Warehouse, which offers custom analytics to all the applications in Fusion, Oracle's cloud-based business suite. The system is built on the Oracle Analytics Cloud and Autonomous Data Warehouse and optimised for all Fusion applications.

Ellison said that the analytics could be rapidly deployed as it only needs to turned on to start analysing data from Fusion.

"We don't have to set up scripts to load the data, the system will do it automatically," he explained.

Jim Hare, a Research VP in Gartner's Technology and Service Provider (TSP) research group with a focus on the analytics and BI market, told Computerworld UK that the announcement reflected Oracle's broader focus on automation.

"Oracle is attempting to wed a couple of trends that may be synergistic in the assistant and the warehouse," he said. "I spoke to a customer today who's very happy with his move from OBIEE to the new generation, and the promise of a [data warehouse] that not only performs better right away because of better configuration and function/security patches being automatically kept up to date, but also can become adaptive – automatically adjusting configuration and adding capabilities based on changes – is potentially a game changer.

"It's not here yet. But Mark Hurd made it clear that AI and ML become features, not a platform. And that speaks volumes to potential business value. The devil will be in the details, and the jury is out and will be for a while."

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