Amazon is joining the ranks of firms trying to help automate office chores with virtual assistants, but industry experts say the launch of Alexa for Business could open up applications that go way beyond what consumers do with an Echo in their homes.
At its AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas on Thursday, Amazon confirmed earlier reports that it would be bringing out Alexa for Business, which will apply the same voice recognition features associated with smart home applications to take on enterprise-oriented tasks. These could include booking meeting rooms, dialling conference calls or even logging into systems such as Salesforce. In a livestream of the conference, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels said Alexa for Business would work with Microsoft Office 365, Google’s G-Suite and Splunk, among other tools.
Firms such as TribalScale have been helping organizations create voice services based on Alexa for years. According to Imtiaz Jaffer, TribalScale’s vice-president of sales, Alexa for Business will only open up more opportunities to bring the technology to companies and their employees.
“It’s really all about convenience and productivity,” he told B2B News Network. “Employees and business users are busy and Alexa for Business provides a simple way for business users to get access to the information they need — not at their fingertips but simply through speech.”
Alexa for Business will have the advantage of offering a sense of familiarity to knowledge workers based on how they may currently be using Alexa in their own homes, Jaffer added. “So that makes adoption that much more seamless for employees in their day-to-day professional lives. Ultimately, if employees can find ways to be more productive through the use of technology, and in this case with Alexa, then the drive towards voice as a key interface is a no-brainer.”
Andy Warren, an e-commerce strategist at DEG Digital based in Overland Park, KC, works with brands to help take advantage of emerging technologies such as chatbots and virtual assistants. He said Alexa for Business’s meeting room feature is especially impressive.
“(It)could solve many issues in terms of getting a meeting room set up and running, especially with people that are working remotely and telecommuting,” he said. “There are some technical questions that I’m sure Amazon is addressing, such as any distraction that comes from everyone in the office saying ‘Alexa’ constantly and distinguishing who is speaking to which device.”
Alexa For Business Use Case Possibilities
Some of the more custom use cases could include creating experiences for employees such as providing directions around a building, or to answer questions about the business to employee directory access, Jaffer said.
Even before the Alexa for Business announcement, companies exhibiting at re:Invent were showing innovative uses for Amazon’s voice technology. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Botmetric, for instance, was demonstrating an Alexa integration for a tool to help IT departments manage cloud computing environments.
“A security engineer would just need to ask a simple question like ‘Botmetric, did you detect any security issues?'” explained Vijay Rayapati, Botmetric’s CEO. “They don’t need to open their e-mails, SMS or in fact our Botmteric application to know what is happening to their cloud environment from a spend, security or operations point of view.”
Rayapati predicted all applications will move to voice-driven support. “What we need to understand is that voice is not an abstraction over the existing system,” he said. “The whole system needs to be designed with voice support in mind, as it’s a paradigm change in the way we interact with machines.”
Design and implementation will also have to take into consideration privacy and security with respect to sensitive information, Jaffer said.
“Echos are always listening, and that certainly is cause for concern since recordings are stored in order to make its cloud-based service smarter,” he said. “IT departments will have to deal with device management, similar to the way they manage other devices today.”
Though Alexa for Business is voice-driven, companies such as Cisco have recently been offering similar virtual assistants for enterprise users. Warren said more competition is inevitable.
“What I’m interested in seeing is how Slack responds to this news,” he said. “Slack has been making large strides into the digital collaboration market for quite a while, and its next step was to rollout productivity apps that tie directly into the platform. Slack is already in a ton of businesses, so I would expect a quick reaction from it to implement some kind of voice service to grab a share of the market.”
Besides simple office chores, several other vendors have been creating business-oriented applications based on Alexa for some time. This includes a firm called iEnterprises, which recently launched a voice-activated CRM tool for use with the Amazon Echo.