Amazon announces plans to put Alexa inside workplaces

Posted Nov 30, 2017 by James Walker
Amazon's announced Alexa for Business, a program designed to convince enterprises that voice assistants can work in offices. The company said it wants employees to have an "intelligent assistant at work" while giving IT controls to manage voice devices.
The Amazon Echo smart speaker with Amazon s Alexa digital assistant
The Amazon Echo smart speaker with Amazon's Alexa digital assistant
Shared devices
Announced at the Amazon Web Services re:Invent conference today, Alexa for Business is Amazon's first attempt at getting digital assistance into workplaces. The company's vision is to create office spaces where people use Alexa to quickly get help, communicate with others and share information.
To facilitate this, Alexa will be added to "shared" and "personal" devices. In the latter category, devices will provide individual routes to interacting with Alexa, such as a smartphone or a personal workstation. The former device category is currently the focus of the Alexa for Business program, letting companies place devices in areas of the workplace frequented by all employees.
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An Alexa-equipped device could be added to a conference room to let meeting participants control conferencing equipment or find information. Alternatively, one might be added to the centre of an office space and connected to information sources such as Salesforce and Splunk. To get informed on new data trends, users could ask Alexa and then follow-up on specific insights.
"I am delighted to announce Alexa for Business, a new service that enables businesses and organizations to bring Alexa into the workplace at scale," said Amazon Web Services technical evangelist Tara Walker. "Alexa for Business not only brings Alexa into your workday to boost your productivity, but also provides tools and resources for organizations to set up and manage Alexa devices at scale, enable private skills, and enroll users."
Management options
To make sure this is manageable inside an enterprise environment, Amazon's developed a robust web-based control panel for Alexa for Business. This is available to existing Amazon Web Services customers and provides administrators with extensive options for managing Alexa devices, users and skills.
Individual devices can be provisioned with "Room" profiles which define common settings for shared Alexa products. This means the device will have the same timezone, address and basic settings irrespective of its user. Once someone starts to interact with it, it can then pull in additional settings as required.
Alexa now features over 20,000 third-party skills but not all of them are applicable to workplace environments. Administrators can choose which skills to enable for each device. Skills can also be assigned to groups and then linked to Room profiles, simplifying setup of new devices using a set of company-wide skills.
Workplace assistance
Putting Alexa into the workplace will diversify the assistant's applications and could encourage more people to try voice control. People who use Alexa at work might be more likely to buy their own Echo for their home. Amazon also hopes to help businesses save time and improve efficiency by using digital assistance to retrieve information.
Alexa for Business will initially target larger organisations who already use digital services that Alexa can integrate with. However, Amazon's first challenge will be to find companies that are willing to use voice interfaces and commit to purchasing multiple Alexa-enabled products. With voice control still in its infancy, adoption could get off to a slow start.