Successful Alexa voice assistant to expand out of consumer market and into the business world
Amazon aims to mirror the success of its Alexa voice assistant and Echo smart speakers in the business community with Alexa for Business, announced at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas.
The thinking is that office workers will be to utilise Echo speakers to set up meetings, book conference rooms, report equipment problems, access the company calendar or sales figures, and other work-related tasks.
To this end Amazon is releasing a new group of tools that will offer skills, or apps, tailored specifically to the business community.
Workers will be able to use the Echo speaker and Alexa either at their desks or around the workplace, to do a number of routine tasks. For example, a worker can simply say “Alexa, start the meeting”. Alexa would then turn on the video conferencing equipment, dial into the conference call, and get the meeting going.
It could also help find an open conference room, report a building equipment problem, or order new supplies.
Alexa could also help make phone calls, hands free and could also send messages, or check calendars, help schedule meetings, manage to-do lists, and set reminders.
It could also be used to help find information in popular business applications such as Salesforce, Concur, or Splunk.
“I am delighted to announce Alexa for Business, a new service that enables businesses and organisations to bring Alexa into the workplace at scale. Alexa for Business not only brings Alexa into your workday to boost your productivity, but also provides tools and resources for organisations to set up and manage Alexa devices at scale, enable private skills, and enroll users.”
Admins will have access to the Alexa for Business dashboard to allow them to customise the Echo speaker and Alexa for particular tasks including managing rooms, shared devices, users, and skills, as well as the ability to control conferencing, calendars, and user invitations.
“We’ve only scratched the surface in our brief review of the Alexa for Business console and service features,” blogged Walker.
There is little doubt that Amazon’s Alexa and its Echo smart speaker has been very successful in the consumer market. Indeed, rivals including Google and Apple are currently playing catch up in the battle for voice-activated digital assistants.
In August Amazon and Microsoft surprised many when they announced that Alexa and Cortana would ‘speak’ to each other.
But Echo devices are always listening, although they don’t collect information until they are activated with the “Alexa” wake word. However, there are times when it does record by accident or if hacked.
This would raise obvious security implications if an Echo speaker was for example placed in a conference room where sensitive corporate information is being discussed.
Last December, police in the US state of Arkansas demanded access to Echo audio data recorded during a murder. Amazon resisted handing over the data, but eventually gave the police the information in March this year.
Companies therefore will have obvious concerns about placing Alexa into meeting rooms and offices where sensitive information is being discussed.
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