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Alexa for Business: Are We Ready?

  
Posted by Christa Bender on Jun 28, 2019 7:51:27 AM
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Information is stored in the cloud, ready for you to access it.

While you may not be a sci-fi aficionado, you may be familiar with movies and TV shows that feature characters using voice commands as part of everyday life. Thanks to Siri, Alexa, and Cortana, using voice commands in your home is quite common and now it is showing up in the workplace. Fun fact: in 2018 there were 50 million Alexa and Google Home devices in the U.S. alone.

One of the companies that is bringing voice commands to the workplace is Amazon with their Alexa for Business solution. Most people know of Alexa from the TV commercials or because they have implemented it in their homes.

Alexa for Business is following the trend of consumer technology following you to work. Remember when Blackberry phones were the phone most commonly used for work, so everyone laughed at the idea of implementing iPhones in the workplace? Similar to iPhone’s launch in 2007, Alexa for Business wants to be a part of your workplace, yet some people are skeptical and resistant.

You may be asking yourself what Alexa for Business can do in the workplace. Think of Alexa for Business as being your own personal assistant. Think about the tasks that you do daily that you can now verbally ask Alexa to help you with:

  • What is today’s news?
  • What does my day look like?
  • What appointments do I have on my calendar?

Now think beyond your work desk…what ways can Alexa for Business help you with meetings? One way is to simply say, “Alexa, join my meeting.” That simple command tells Alexa to find the upcoming meeting on your calendar, turn on your room display, and connect you to the meeting. Another way is to book a room for a meeting by saying, “Alexa, book this room for X minutes”.

What makes Alexa for Business a dynamic option is that information is in the cloud, which Alexa accesses to become smarter with each command you present. This enables you to keep your employees in the know and resolve issues faster. That also means you don’t need to update firmware.

Many cloud collaboration solutions are compatible with Alexa for Business like Amazon Chime, Zoom, Cisco Webex, RingCentral, and BlueJeans. There are also devices with Alexa for Business built-in, like the Polycom Trio making it super easy to implement Alexa for Business with the communication solutions you are already using. Alexa for Business also has native calendar integrations with Microsoft Exchange, Office 365, and Google G Suite.

So, what could possibly make me say no to bringing Alexa for Business into my workplace? What comes to mind immediately is security—how do I keep my data safe? If Alexa is not in listening mode, it is not streaming information to the cloud. Only when the wake word “Alexa” is spoken does the device start streaming to the cloud. Amazon provides more detail here in this security white paper.

Am I sold on Alexa for Business? Not 100 percent, but I really like where voice commands are heading. I tried Alexa at home and ended up disconnecting her as I found her turning on when not prompted and not always getting voice prompts correct, which led to lots of frustration. I also want to customize what the “wake word” is so that Alexa doesn’t wake up when it isn’t supposed to—right now you are limited to Alexa, Echo, Amazon, and Computer as the prompts—those words are spoken all day in my house and not in the context of activating a digital assistant, which is problematic for me. Imagine everyone using the same wake word at their desks—it could cause disruption as you activate your colleague’s digital assistant instead of your own.

As voice and language recognition evolves, I can see voice commands becoming more common in the workplace and employees taking advantage of having a digital assistant. Today I consider my smartphone my digital assistant, but perhaps in a few years I’ll be using my voice instead of my fingers to conduct research.

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Topics: workplace, digital assistant, voice commands, language recognition, Alexa for Business