Amazon Launches Alexa for Business

Mitch Wagner
11/30/2017

LAS VEGAS -- AWS re:Invent -- Amazon Web Services is looking to bring Alexa's voice automation capabilities to the office, launching Alexa for Business in conference rooms and on office desktops on Thursday.

Alexa for Business provides specialized business apps -- which Amazon Web Services Inc. calls "skills" -- and services for managing Alexa devices such as Amazon's own Echo, as well as tools for user management, Werner Vogels, AWS chief technology officer and vice president, said in a Thursday morning keynote.

"If voice is a natural way to interact in your home with home automation, why not build something for work as well?" Vogels said.

In a conference room, Alexa for Business integrates with voice devices from vendors including Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Polycom Inc. (Nasdaq: PLCM) to let users use simple voice commands to start meetings. Alexa integrates with other devices in a conference room for skills such as dimming lights and lowering blinds.


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Alexa for Business will help take the frustration out of meetings, making it easier to connect laptops to devices or find a printer, Vogels said. Alexa can help automate connecting to a conference system.

"Thats why meetings always start at least ten minutes late," he said.

AWS is partnering with Teem, which provides meeting room bookings and workplace analytics to help users find alternate conference rooms if the one they're in is too small, other otherwise occupied, Vogels said.

And users can put an Echo device on their desk, to start meetings, make calls and integrate with their home Alexa to perform functions such as play their personal Spotify or Amazon Music playlists.

Alexa for Business supports Microsoft Exchange on premises, and integrates with enterprise applications such as RingCentral, Salesforce, SAP Concur, SAP SucessFactors for human resources and Informatica ERP.

The Wynn hotel in Las Vegas is putting an Echo in every room, Vogels said. Guests will be able to play music, open shades, set the thermostat, turn lights on and off and control their TV -- for example, turning on ESPN.

Other users include WeWork coworking, Vonage Holdings Corp. (NYSE: VG) and Capital One.

IT departments can use Alexa to provision and manage devices, configure conference rooms, email users and assign skills and build custom skills.

The transition to voice and conversational systems will require building back end systems that accommodate the new user interface.

Voice is a more natural user interface than keyboard, web pages and Google searches, Vogels said. "What voice will do is allow you to have a normal and natural way of communicating," Vogels said. "The surgeon in the operating room will use voice to manipulate the machinery around her instead of having to take her hands off the patient."

He added, "If you're a young Dad and your child is ill you don't want to fill out out a form on a web page. You want to scream at someone."

Voice interfaces will bring older users, who have trouble even manipulating a tablet, online. And it will also open online interactions to users in the developing world, who don't have smartphones -- at best, they have an old feature phone, Vogels said.

The Amazon Echo is a simple device in itself. The AWS cloud handles all the voice interactions, Vogels said. "All the smarts live in the cloud. This is a pure cloud product," he said.

And Alexa's voice service is not unique to Echo. Anyone can integrate Alexa into their devices, and companies such as Sonos, Hyundai, Mercedes Benz and Ford have done that.

Even hobbyists can integrate Alexa into objects. One hobbyist hacked a Big Mouth Billy Bass to turn it into an Alexa device, Vogels noted. And then the Billy Bass company turned it into a product.

The Alexa for Business announcement is a poke in Cisco's eye. That company is rolling out a voice interface for its Spark collaboration system, with a first push on automating and simplifying meetings. (See 'Hey, Spark!' Cisco Launches AI-Powered Voice Assistant for Meetings.)

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— Mitch Wagner Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn profile Visit my blog Follow me on Facebook Editor, Enterprise Cloud News

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oliviakatie
oliviakatie
7/4/2019 | 7:46:31 AM
Re: Alexa + Chime?
Surely, Alexa has been proven to be one of the best thing happen to us as well as the business. It's easily connected to the printers also. In addition to it, if you see any issues in your Epson Printer with Error Code E-07, you can simply visit our website: https://www.errorcodeexpert.com/how-to-fix-epson-printer-error-code-e-01/ and look for solution.
kq4ym
kq4ym
12/12/2017 | 9:38:02 AM
Re: Alexa + Chime?
There does seem to be real life situation where voice control would certainly be better than punching keys, but I'm still skeptical that there's a widespread audience out there who is realy to switch over with current devices. While getting that business meeeting started on time is a real cool idea, I'll wait and see if Voice will get that meeting off on time.
mhhfive
mhhfive
12/1/2017 | 11:33:29 PM
Re: Alexa + Chime?
I think there have been several failed attempts to get speech recognition into car interfaces. Ford tried it a few years ago, but it didn't work very well. Siri isn't exactly a great user interface for an iPhone let alone a *car* -- so I have some trouble believing anyone is really clamoring for Siri or Alexa or Cortana or Bixby or OKGoogle in a car (where road noise makes comprehension even more difficult).
mhhfive
mhhfive
12/1/2017 | 11:29:11 PM
Re: Alexa + Chime?
> "Wouldn't a Star Fleet vessel be part of the military? Why upsell when customers aren't even paying in the first place? "

If we're going to get nit picky, then technically the whole federation of planets in the Star Trek universe somehow evolved beyond profits and a monetary system -- with the exception of the Ferengi, perhaps. And I suppose if a Replicator can make anything free of charge, then there's no need to upsell because the user would have just ordered more to begin with.
maryam@impact
[email protected]
12/1/2017 | 12:00:14 AM
Re: Alexa + Chime?
I can only hope Apple has been trying to get Siri into cars so why not Alexa!
Michelle
Michelle
11/30/2017 | 11:55:12 PM
Re: Alexa + Chime?
That is a really great integration idea! I hadn't thought of that, but Alexa could do well in auto systems. I wonder if Amazon is working on a car version.
maryam@impact
[email protected]
11/30/2017 | 11:30:49 PM
Re: Alexa + Chime?
Very true, I do wish I could get an Alexa version in my car. The car technology still seems behind the standards we are accustomed to, I still find it clunky. Maybe with Amazon's move to business they will move into connected cars.
Michelle
Michelle
11/30/2017 | 7:30:29 PM
Re: Alexa + Chime?
Heh, that would be fun!

Wouldn't a Star Fleet vessel be part of the military? Why upsell when customers aren't even paying in the first place? 
maryam@impact
[email protected]
11/30/2017 | 6:11:41 PM
Re: Alexa + Chime?
This is very interesting since so many people were concerned about their Alexa device listening to their conversations just a short time ago. I am surprised businesses aren't concerned about security and hacking when used in an office environment. I personally love Alexa but I do think the heavy app could be improved.
mhhfive
mhhfive
11/30/2017 | 2:49:45 PM
Re: Alexa + Chime?
I simply want to be able to walk around saying "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." and have a nice beverage awaiting me wherever I go. :P

I also find it unbelievable that the Star Trek Enterprise would never try to upsell Replicator users.. You never hear the system say, "Would you like fries with that?" or anything else...
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