AWS unveiled Alexa for Business during its re:INVENT conference in Las Vegas
AWS unveiled Alexa for Business during its re:INVENT conference in Las Vegas PHOTO: AWS

Technology gets in the way of your productivity on the job — and that's a problem, according to Amazon CTO Werner Vogels. During yesterday's keynote address at AWS re:Invent, Amazon Web Services user conference taking place in Las Vegas, Vogels introduced attendees to a workplace where a digital assistant could handle tasks like starting conference calls, controlling conference room equipment, scheduling meetings, keeping track of tasks, reordering supplies and more, based on a voice command.

As you might have guessed, that assistant's name is Alexa. Alexa is the voice of Amazon Echo, which as many as 10 million people currently boss around in their homes. 

Speaking before a packed house, Vogels told the crowd that people in the workplace need this kind of help too.

"We've been thinking that if voice is this natural way of interacting in your home, why don't we build something that you can actually use at work as well?" he said. "If you've ever tried to connect your laptop to the devices that you have ... that's why meetings always start 10 minutes late."

Alexa Reaches Deep in the Workplace

AConstellation Research vice president and principal analyst Holger Mueller told CMSWire it was a topic the audience at re:Invent identified with. "Conference room automation is a problem. They (Amazon) got the use case right," he said.

With Alexa for Business, workers will be able to depend on the digital assistant to check conference room availability, turn on the video conference equipment, search for dial-in information and enter passwords. In fact, a manager may have to do nothing more than say, "Alexa, start the meeting."

But that is just one use case. Alexa can quickly check calendars, help schedule meetings, manage to-do lists, and set reminders. Moreover it can, or soon will be able to, interface with some enterprise applications like SAP's travel application Concur (Alexa, what time is my flight?), SAP's human capital management application Success Factors (Alexa, I'm going to take Friday off, please mark my calendar), RingCentral (Alexa, please read me my email) and Tact.ai (Alexa please do my CRM logging).

The tasks Alexa can complete are called "skills."

Other Alexa for Business launch partners include Microsoft, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Splunk, Acumatica, Polycom, Crestron, Teem, Twine and Zoom.

Integrated with the right applications, Alexa for Business brings significant wins to workers, according to Constellation Research principal analyst Cindy Zhou. "(It means) less time spent on tedious manual data entry or report creation, and fast responses to key questions and CRM updates," she told CMSWire.

In order for Alexa for Business to succeed in the workplace, IT administrators will need to have control. Amazon is making it easy for them to provision and manage shared Alexa devices using the Alexa for Business console. From it, administrators will be able to: set locations, configure conference room settings, manage users, manage skills, build private skills and more.

Privacy or No, Always-On Assistants Are Here to Stay

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, consultant and founder of Deep Analysis, told CMSWire there may be some concern around Alexa for Business and the topic of data privacy and compliance.

"Alexa by default is always listening, storing and learning," he said. "Though Alexa likely is not doing anything nefarious, it will be privy to anything and all that is going on. Governance and legal professionals will need to be happy with how that operates before approving their use, particularly in light of the impending GDPR regulations."

That being said, Alexa, or a product like it, is inevitably coming to the workplace, according to Mueller. While it is much too early to predict whose voice will ultimately lead the push into the workplace, "Alexa is ahead for now," said Mueller.