Microsoft Set to Bring Alexa into the Business World

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Two Seattle-area tech giants, Microsoft and Amazon, are joining forces to integrate their digital personal assistants, and though no release date has yet been set, the Microsoft-Amazon plan is in the works—executives from the two companies took the stage at the Microsoft BUILD conference in May to show future users how the paired technology could benefit them. For example, users could check their schedules with Cortana on an Amazon Echo or use Alexa to order an Uber while they’re using Microsoft Windows 10. On June 5, Amazon announced that devices from Wistron, Compal, and Quanta—all of which have Microsoft’s Cortana—are now getting Alexa, too. They join models from HP, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer.

That these two companies would form an alliance isn’t a surprise to at least one analyst that follows the industry. Werner Goetz, research director on Gartner’s personal technologies team, says we should expect to see even more of these assistants working together across platforms in the future. 

Meanwhile, the Amazon and Microsoft collaboration—which was first announced last August—will bring Alexa into the workplace with the help of Windows technology. This, of course, is to the benefit of each of their makers, Goetz says. “It’s a good strategy because I see this being the way of virtual personal assistants going forward,” he says. “I don’t see one single virtual personal assistant, whether Siri or Google, having the breadth to encompass all the scenarios in which we’ll be engaging the voice.”

The partnership seems unique because Microsoft and Amazon are two of the established big players in the digital personal assistant space, so you’d expect them to compete for a bigger share of that market. “But if you look at the strengths of Alexa and Cortana, they’re complementary,” Goetz says. Combined, the two companies can have a larger consumer footprint with Alexa, while Microsoft allows Amazon a road into the enterprise world. “Alexa connects the home. But with Microsoft, Amazon is moving to connect the enterprise,” he says. 

Though personal assistants are usually thought of as connected to your home—lowering your house’s temperature from your office, for instance—the collaboration will really shine in the business world, Goetz says. 

Amazon Echo devices will move into the world of work. That is inevitable, according to Goetz. But the collaboration with Microsoft will give Cortana the hardware devices to deliver its core asset: Azure, the cloud service that manages applications and services through a global network of Microsoft-managed data centers. Cortana will be freed of the Windows 10 interface and can be housed within a voice application that can exist anywhere—so no need to open a browser, device, or computer to access information via Cortana. 

Amazon and Microsoft plan to be the front-runners when it comes to the business benefits of digital personal assistants. “Amazon doesn’t have access to resources on the Microsoft platform like Azure,” Geotz says. “But if you were to do something with a voice query—‘Alexa show me the northwestern sales results for the third quarter’—Cortana can provide access to the ERP system.” In this way, Alexa will be able to access all types of ERP databases—whether SAP, Oracle, or Microsoft. Users can ask for all types of ERP information that they currently have to log on to a computer or open a browser to find.

By working together, not only will the systems gain access to markets they might not have been in before, but the systems will get more efficient. 

“Today we have the unified systems made by Cisco or Avaya that make the phone calls happen, and the web conferences, and that’s an area where the voice capabilities of Alexa can take off,” he says. 

The pairing will work the other way—from work to home—as well, Goetz says. Cortana can be called upon to manage connected home devices from a Windows 10 laptop used at the office. A few keystrokes could activate a sensor hidden in a pet’s bowl to disperse food. Work late at the office with without worrying about Fido at home!

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