The retail and Web services giant is conquering the enterprise with its smart assistant, it says.
With Alexa for Business, Amazon looked set to bring its digital assistant into the enterprise technology space. It nows claims to have scored some early successes.
Announced on Internet of Business in December, the company has since been working with a number of companies to refine its Alexa for Business offering for use in the corporate environment.
Until recently, Amazon had pitched Alexa firmly at the consumer space, with skills that were mostly designed to control smart home devices, play music, or listen to the news and weather.
But according to a new blog post by Amazon’s chief technology officer, Werner Vogels, Amazon’s business customers have already built hundreds of private Alexa skills that are designed to help employees perform a range of tasks, “from getting internal news briefings to asking what time their help desk closes.”
The company now believes that the next generation of corporate systems and applications will be built using conversational interfaces.
Happy API talk
To prepare Alexa for deeper adoption in the workplace, Amazon has added a management layer and a set of APIs to integrate with more enterprise apps and infrastructures.
Alexa can already interact with a range of business applications, including Salesforce, Microsoft Exchange and RingCentral, SAP Concur and SuccessFactors, and workflow tool ServiceNow.
According to Vogels, the voice assistant has been deployed in growing numbers of businesses for environmental controls, and to give directions, book meeting rooms, report problems, or arrange transportation for employees.
“One of the biggest applications of voice in the enterprise is conference rooms, and we’ve built some special skills in this area to allow people to be more productive,” he said.
“With Alexa for Business, the administrator can configure conference rooms and integrate calendars with the devices. When you walk into a meeting, all you have to say is ‘Alexa, start my meeting’,” he added.
Vogels said that IT developers who want to take advantage of the voice interface can enable custom apps using the Alexa Skills Kit.
“There are a number of agencies and systems integrators that can help with this, and there are code repositories with code examples for AWS,” he said.
Alexa in the office
Vogels shared the example of collaborative workspace provider, WeWork. The company has been using Alexa for Business in its everyday workflow for the past few months, according to Amazon.
“They have built private skills for Alexa that employees can use to reserve conference rooms, file help tickets for the community management team, and get important information on the status of meeting rooms, ” said Vogels.
“Alexa for Business makes it easy for WeWork to configure and deploy Alexa-enabled devices – and the Alexa skills that they need to improve their employees’ productivity.”
Internet of Business says
IBM, Salesforce, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, Apple, and Google are among the tech giants that are refocusing their businesses on cognitive services, AI, and machine learning. But – the earlier Siri aside – Alexa has swiftly become the byword for voice-enabled services, not to mention the stuff of a thousand memes.
Amazon has achieved this by targeting its Echo and Dot devices at the heart of people’s homes. If you can accept a technology in your living room, then you can accept in anywhere, perhaps.
However, while voice might be the most intuitive means for most human beings to communicate with each other, issue simple instructions to devices, or receive basic information, it is an inferior, serial, and time-consuming means of searching or scanning through large volumes of data.
For sighted people at least, screens, smart glasses, and graphical interfaces are likely to remain the quickest and most efficient means of interacting with business information and in-depth reports.
“Alexa, book me a ticket to New York” or “Alexa, show me the latest quarterly figures” are scenarios that work, while “Alexa, compare the past five years of financial results” isn’t, until the technology becomes capable of interpreting and summarising data.
That said, voice already accounts for over 20 percent of search traffic in the US, according to several recent reports.
Perhaps as mobile devices force organisations to publish information in smaller and smaller chunks, and people’s attention spans get shorter and shorter as a result, voice interfaces’ influence will continue to grow and the business environment can only get noisier.
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