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

When Alexa for Business launched at AWS re:Invent last week, observers duly noted the advances the technology would make in office productivity. It could make conference calls for you, control the conference room equipment and schedule meetings. To be sure, these are pleasant enhancements to daily life in the office. But Alexa for Business offers an even greater potential — one that will be realized as the product makes inroads into the business community. 

“This isn’t just a voice interface — it is backed by an increasingly intelligent AI,” Rob Enderle of The Enderle Group told CMSWire. “That means, over time, the AI will learn about you and be able to modify its own language and command structure to better fit how you want to do things — which also means, over time, less struggling with wording a question or command and more intuitive responses from the system.”

Now couple that machine-learning feature with the capabilities of some of the companies with which Alexa for Business has partnered — Microsoft, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Splunk, Acumatica, Polycom, Crestron, Teem, Twine and Zoom — and all sorts of possibilities start to take shape.

What Splunk Can Do With Alexa for Business

Consider AWS’ partnership with Splunk.  In fact, Splunk has been partners with AWS for years, Jon Rooney, vice president of Product Marketing told CMSWire, but the direction it was taking with Alexa for Business was particularly intriguing. “The work that they’re doing around Alexa for Business coincided with some work that we’ve been doing around natural language processing. We wanted to know, ‘could people ask questions in natural language, and get usable information out of Splunk going through a system like Alexa?’”

Turns out, they could. Because of Splunk's technical nature, questions can be asked of the app like, "What servers are running?" or "How many reserved Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances do I have that are currently being utilized?" or "How many security incidents were there in the last hour?" A user can also ask higher-level questions, which is where things start to really get interesting. The system can be asked, for instance, "What were the sales totals yesterday in San Francisco?" or "How much inventory do we have?" or "What’s the forecast for sales?"

A Smart, Self-Service IT Help Desk?

It is an intriguing development for Splunk because its user base is very technically sophisticated, Rooney said. But this integration with Alexa for Business opens the door for people who don’t have the hands-on keyboard experience with Splunk to use the system as well.

Indeed, one can imagine Alexa for Business developing the first iteration of a truly smart self-service IT help desk. It is a possibility, according to Enderle. “Eventually you may not even have to ask the question, the system will know you need the answer and proactively provide it or, when asking a question that is too limited, will automatically expand the answer,” he said. For instance, such a product could not only tell you a server is down but why and what needs to be done to fix it. Eventually this AI-based, voice-enabled help desk would become far more helpful than the human help desk it will replace, Enderle concluded.

Voice-Enabled Business Applications?

And here is another vision. These developments could turn into the next new user interface for applications — that is, an interface that uses voice instead of the keyboard to communicate. This particular scenario may take longer to realize though, according to one analyst. It is true that voice-enabling business applications are a logical extension of other commercial processes, like using automated responses in text-based support and similar client/partner engagements, says Charles King, principal of Pund-IT.  “...it's hard to say that at this point whether using a platform like Alexa for Business will result in the simplification of complex procedures, like simplified GUIs have in systems management and other scenarios,” he said.

King also shared that the shift to user-friendly systems management interfaces took more than a generation to occur and only shifted into high gear when legacy system vendors realized that younger computer science majors and programmers were staying away in droves.