This week, Amazon unloaded a ton of Alexa-enabled Echo gizmos, including the Echo Connect. Shipping on December 13, 2017 (just before the holiday season), the Echo Connect will enable you to connect your "home phone" and existing home phone service to make and receive phone calls via Ye Olde PSTN RJ-11 jack, with Alexa doing the dialing. It's a lot easier to do this in a straight VoIP environment, which is why I wonder how soon GENBAND and others will be adding voice assistants to their suddenly-boring PBXes.
At $34.99 (free shipping for prime members), Echo Connect enables any Echo compatible device to call any phone number just using your voice. How quickly it dials will be interesting, considering Alexa has to process the voice command successfully, then send a dial tone string to the Connect and complete the call.
If you sync all your contacts with Alexa and Echo, you can ask Alexa to dial people and places by name. Another "How smart are you, Alexa?" challenge will be if Alexa asks you which number you should be dialing -- home, mobile, others -- or if it, like many other assistants, takes the first number listed as the default unless you specify otherwise.
But the real news here is that Echo is working with a lot of hardware and software "duct tape" to make this seamlessly happen in a mixed PSTN and voice environment. Given the proper APIs -- I'm looking at you Kandy and GENBAND -- any software-based PBX-ish environment should be able to have Alexa as a front-end process anytime you pick up the phone, or even if you don't want to pick up the phone.
Outbound calling could be done simply by either putting an Echo on your desk or conference room -- since the baseline Echo has multiple microphones for voice detection, we have no idea how capable it could be in a business setting, but I'm willing to bet the answer is "Conference room ready."
Maybe the real question will be how soon Amazon will roll into Enterprise Connect to present the Echo and its cloud PBX solution as something capable of business-class service. By keeping everything in the cloud, Amazon will be able to easily add PBX features that are expensive additions today. Imagine conference calls where all participants are identified and logged by voice biometrics, with a transcript at the end easily indicating what every speaker said.
Smarter inbound call center and IVR functions are also a big area for Alexa polishing. Being able to confirm an inbound call by caller ID and voice print, and then offering a caller a quick set of options interactively -- "Hi, Doug, are you trying to reach Dave Rodriguez or Erik Linask today?," "Erik," "Thank you, connecting now." -- would be beneficial for everyone by getting calls completed quicker.
Amazon's key advantages at this point are having the Alexa voice recognition AI and enough supporting hardware to put together a system that could easily serve the SMB segment without a lot of headaches. Larger businesses may require more significant work and customization, but they have the dollars to spend to do so. If you are a systems integrator, you may want to talk to Amazon and see what you can do to work with the company before someone else does.
Edited by Mandi Nowitz