Have you been thinking about hiring an office assistant? Amazon has someone they think would be perfect for the job — their virtual voice assistant, Alexa.
At Amazon Web Services’ re:Invent conference held recently in Las Vegas, Amazon announced Alexa for Business, a platform to help business use the virtual assistant in the office.
Until this recent announcement, voice interfaces have mostly focused on use in the home. Could Alexa for Business change that and, in the process, change the way we work?
How Can Alexa Help Around the Office?
Amazon’s business assistant has the same features as it does in the home, but it also has some new ones mostly through integrations with other services and software. More of these combinations and capacities are likely on their way.
In the office, you can ask Alexa questions, set timers and get the weather forecast like you would at home. You can also use it to control smart lighting, thermostats and other appliances.
For some more business-specific capabilities, Amazon worked with audio and video conferencing companies to enable Alexa to help you get meetings started. If you tell Alexa to “start the meeting,” she could turn on the phone equipment and call the required number if she had access to your calendar and information about the meeting.
Amazon also partnered with Microsoft to enable better integration with its software, Salesforce to allow voice-activated access to sales data. There’s also an integration with Concur, which helps businesses manage travel and expenses.
How Does It Work?
With the introduction of Alexa for Business, Amazon is hoping to become the go-to voice interface for business use and move companies away from apps to voice, which makes sense given Amazon’s lack of a smartphone infrastructure.
To use this new platform, businesses can purchase smart speakers from Amazon for $7 per unit per month. There’s no requirement for Alexa to be linked to an Amazon Prime account.
For $3 a month, businesses can also add their employee’s home speakers to their network. Additionally, employees could access Alexa’s capabilities when they’re out of the office through a smartphone app.
A business administrator would have the ability to manage the company’s devices and the “skills” that are available on them. They could equip the speakers with a layer of security that would identify employees before allowing them access to the network. Management could even assign “private” skills to individual employees, but not others.
Companies would be able to build skills to use with Alexa, and the more they use the devices, the more effective they’ll become as they use machine learning to improve over time. That data is valuable to Amazon, as it powers these smart technologies.
How Will Alexa Change the Way We Work?
Some might wonder whether office voice assistants will make workers more productive or merely serve as distractions. In short, it likely depends on how you use them.
Voice assistants have the potential to enhance productivity by taking care of tedious everyday tasks like ordering supplies, scheduling meetings and setting up technology for a meeting. They could also help employees find information more quickly. If a smart speaker is loaded up with contact information or sales data, workers could simply ask Alexa and get an answer almost immediately.
The technology could be especially helpful in meetings and collaborative work. Rather than having to stop and look something up a computer or tablet, meeting attendees could just ask Alexa, allowing the conference to keep moving.
At first, Alexa for Business might be more of a novelty than anything, but as workers continue to use it, that will wear off, and they’ll learn how best to use it to boost their productivity.
There might be a learning curve, but once employees get past that, companies will start to see some benefits emerge.
Alexa might not revolutionize the business world overnight, but as time goes on, we may begin to see fewer screens and virtual voice-activated assistants in our office environments.
Image via Amazon