Speech Technology Magazine


Amazon Launches Alexa for Business

AWS has created a business-specific version of its voice-enabled virtual assistant.
By Leonard Klie - Posted Feb 7, 2018
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Amazon Web Services in December introduced Alexa for Business, a service that provides employees with an intelligent voice-enabled assistant to simplify their interactions with the technology around them at work—in conference rooms, at their desks, and around the office.

With simple voice commands, Alexa for Business can automate tasks such as starting conference calls, controlling conference room equipment, scheduling meetings, keeping track of tasks, or reordering supplies. Alexa for Business also supports a large and growing list of skills and integrations from companies like Salesforce.com, Concur, and Polycom that extend Alexa for Business’s functionality into popular applications and devices. Additionally, companies can tailor Alexa for Business by building custom private skills that integrate with their own internal applications and office systems. To help companies further voice-enable their offices, Alexa for Business includes the tools to set up and manage Alexa devices, enroll users, and assign skills at scale.

Employees can use their voices to interact with the technology throughout their workdays. It makes starting a conference call as simple as asking Alexa to “start the meeting,” and it can help workers manage calendars, keep up with to-do lists, and make phone calls. It can also handle tasks like notifying IT of an equipment issue or finding and booking an open conference room.

“Tens of millions of people already count on Alexa at home, in their cars, and on mobile devices to answer questions, provide news and information, and stay connected to friends and family,” said Peter Hill, director of productivity applications at Amazon Web Services, in a statement. “Alexa for Business extends the simplicity of voice control to the workplace, while adding powerful tools to help businesses deploy and manage devices, create skills, and deliver voice-first experiences in a scalable way, all backed by the AWS Cloud.”

Customers can set up shared Alexa devices in common areas around the office, such as conference rooms, huddle rooms, lobbies, and communications centers, and manage these devices, enroll users, and assign skills from the AWS Management Console. With shared Alexa devices, users can start and end meetings in conference rooms. Alexa will automatically dial into the meeting using an Alexa device as a speakerphone or existing video conferencing equipment. Alexa for Business can also voice-enable conference room features, including the lights and video conferencing equipment. Individual users can also use Alexa for Business from their desks to automatically dial into conference calls, check upcoming appointments, and schedule or cancel meetings.

Alexa for Business works with Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Exchange, and Google G Suite.

Solution and software providers, including Salesforce.com, Concur, SuccessFactors, ServiceNow, Splunk, Acumatica, Tact, Polycom, Crestron, RingCentral, Teem, Twine, and Zoom, are integrating their business applications with Alexa for Business or developing skills that will allow users to accomplish all kinds of tasks with simple utterances.

“We are thrilled to be a part of the Alexa for Business launch and to provide our customers exciting new channels to get business done faster and build closer connections with their own customers,” said Ryan Aytay, executive vice president of business development and strategic accounts at Salesforce.com, in a statement.

“Polycom is excited to take the next step with natural language by demonstrating Alexa voice control with our RealPresence Group Series video conferencing products,” said Greg Pelton, chief technology officer at Polycom, in a statement. “Polycom was the first to make one-touch control to join a video conference call, and by simply saying ‘Alexa, join the meeting,’ you will have the ability to easily and simply join a video conference using only your voice. We are in limited trials with select customers today and know users will love this great, simple experience when it comes to market.”

Additionally, customers can leverage the tens of thousands of public skills available for Alexa today and create new private ones for their employees by using the Alexa Skills Kit and the Alexa for Business APIs.

Capital One, Brooks Brothers, and WeWork were among the first businesses using Alexa for Business.

Other business leaders are equally excited about Alexa for Business. Igor Gorin, CEO of Astound Commerce, for example, thinks larger business budgets will lead to better skills and that this is a logical next step for Amazon as voice assistants move past consumer adoption.

Ray Grady, chief customer officer and president of CloudCraze, believes this is only the beginning of business applications for Alexa. With Salesforce data at the ready, Alexa could eventually be integrated into B2B commerce to provide more personalized and streamlined experiences, he says.

Barry Pellas, chief technology officer and chief business technologist at PointSource, sees Alexa’s use in a business setting as something that can enhance workplace collaboration and create an internal culture that actively evolves with new technology.

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