Amazon Unleashes Alexa for Business - Consequences Abound

By Doug Mohney November 30, 2017

Today, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced Alexa for Business, bringing Amazon's intelligent assist into the office.  This shouldn't be a surprise to TMC readers, but the impact of this announcement cannot be overstated within the unified communications and voice processing sectors.

Alexa for Business will (initially) help with scheduling tasks, scheduling meetings, starting conference calls, controlling conference room equipment, and reordering supplies (from Amazon). In addition, there's a large and growing ecosystem of developers building new skills and integrations using Alexa's APIs, linking the voice assistant into services and products like Salesforce, Concur, and Polycom. Customers -- i.e., corporations, vendors, and system integrators -- can build their own Alexa for Business "private" skills to tailor the assistant to a company's specific IT applications and office systems.

Among the business features being rolled out are tools to setup and manage multiple Alexa devices, enroll users and assign skills "at scale," says the AWS press release.  Features for individual desktop users includes schedule management assistance, tracking the to-do list, set reminders, automatically dial into conference calls, and make phone calls for you. It can also perform search functions on company data bases -- think sales data and inventory -- as a part of a "private" skills build.

In the conference room, Alexa will let you start conference calls and control conference room settings using your voice. Alexa lets people adjust remote controls, keep track of conference call information and dial into meetings automatically just by saying "Alexa, start my meeting" -- no fuss, no muss, no having to remember bridge numbers and passcodes. As predicted in an earlier article,  Echos and other Alexa-enabled devices will act as audio conferencing devices in smaller conference rooms.

Alexa's corporate assistance portfolio can be customized to provide directions, find open meeting rooms, order supplies, report building problems, notify IT of an equipment issue, as well as to provide on-the-job training or provide business statistic status -- "Alexa, how many visits to the TechZone360 website have there been today?" Alexa for Business works with Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Exchange, and Google G Suite.

But wait, there's more! The Alexa for Business website discusses what the hospitality industry can do with it, providing hints for other verticals. Alexa could be used in a hotel room to play a customer's favorite music and order room service.  In other environments, it could provide customers with product information and product support.

Third-parties announcing Alexa for Business integration today include Salesforce, Concur, SuccessFactors, ServiceNow, Splunk, Acumatica, Tact, Polycom, Crestron, RingCentral, Teem, Twine, and Zoom.  Corporations using Alexa for Business today include Capital One, Brooks Brothers, and We Work.  

And there should be no big surprise Alexa for Business in being used by Vonage for Business, the cloud communication service.  Earlier this year, Vonage teamed up with Amazon to offer Chime Pro to its business customers; it will be interesting to watch how Alexa for Business is distributed to Vonage's customer base.

Amazon has created a value chain that includes devices, voice processing (recognition and biometrics), and APIs to integrate everything into other services, including conference bridges and other business processes.  This is a glue that many/most existing PBX services don't have, making Vonage and Ring Central ahead of the curve compared to other cloud communication providers.

How voice processing firms such as Nuance and NICE fare is an open question.  Nuance has been a behind-the-scenes player with some enterprise customers, but the end-user hardware integration has been something they have avoided.  NICE has a solid enterprise and call center presence, steadily expanding on its strengths in voice processing over the decades. With a presence in over 85 percent of the Fortune 100 and 25,000 customers worldwide, publicly-traded NICE is in a decent position to weather the coming Alexa for Business storm. On the other hand, Amazon is working hard to expand the footprint of Alexa from consumer into businesses of all sizes. Time will tell.




Edited by Mandi Nowitz

Contributing Editor

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