AWS Gives Alexa a Prominent New Office Job

Alexa for Business will be empowered by new integrations with Microsoft Exchange, RingCentral, Salesforce, SAP Concur and SuccessFactors, among other things--including your own home Alexa.

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Heading fast into 2018, it’s pretty much a lock that voice-enabled artificial intelligence and natural language control of devices and software is where it’s all headed—whether it involves a vehicle, a living room or walking down the street with a phone.

Now we can add “in an office.”

At the Amazon Web Services re:Invent 2017 conference Nov. 29 in Las Vegas, Amazon Web Services put a business-casual outfit on its well-known virtual assistant, re-dubbed her Alexa for Business and gave her a set of work tools for professional duty.

Alexa for Business will be empowered by new integrations with Microsoft Exchange, RingCentral, Salesforce, SAP Concur and SuccessFactors, among other things--including your own home Alexa, AWS Chief Technical Officer Werner Vogels (pictured) said in his keynote address. Administrators will be able to manage Alexa-enabled devices and third-party skills that are available to end users.

AWS says this is all about saving time, especially in arranging meetings, concalls and videochats. In the workplace, shared devices can be placed in common areas for anyone to use. In addition, Vogel said, Alexa for Business can be connected with Alexa’s home service or personal mobile devices for home- or road-based professionals.

Administrators can even add in their own "private" skills, Vogels said. "Voice is the first disruption that will be driven by the capabilities of sort of the deep learning tools that we're giving you," Vogels said.

Here’s what users can do using Alexa for Business from any of their devices:

Shared devices

  • Join meetings in conference rooms: You can simply say “Alexa, start the meeting.” Alexa turns on the video conferencing equipment, dials into your conference call, and gets the meeting going.
  • Help around the office: Users can access custom skills to help with directions around the office, finding an open conference room, reporting a building equipment problem, or ordering new supplies.

Personal devices

  • Enable calling and messaging: Alexa helps make phone calls, hands free and can also send messages on your behalf.
  • Automatically dial into conference calls: Alexa can join any meeting with a conference call number via voice from home, work, or on the gowhile you are traveling.
  • Intelligent assistant: Alexa can quickly check calendars, help schedule meetings, manage to-do lists, and set reminders.
  • Find information: Alexa can help find information in popular business applications like Salesforce, Concur, or Splunk.

Here are some of the controls available to administrators:

  • Provision and Manage Shared Alexa Devices: You can provision and manage shared devices around your workplace using the Alexa for Businessconsole. For each device you can set a location, such as a conference room designation, and assign public and private skills for the device.
  • Configure Conference Room Settings: Kick off your meetings with a simple “Alexa, start the meeting.” Alexa for Business allows you to configure your conference room settings so you can use Alexa to start your meetings and control your conference room equipment, or dial in directly from the Amazon Echo device in the room.
  • Manage Users: You can invite users in your organization to enroll their personal Alexa account with your Alexa for Business account. Once your users have enrolled, you can enable your custom private skills for them to use on any of the devices in their personal Alexa account, at work or at home.
  • Manage Skills: You can assign public skills and custom private skills your organization has created to your shared devices, and make private skills available to your enrolled users.  You can create skills groups, which you can then assign to specific shared devices.
  • Build Private Skills and Use Alexa for Business APIs:  Dig into the Alexa Skills Kit and build your own skills.  Then you can make these available to the shared devices and enrolled users in your Alexa for Business account, all without having to publish them in the public Alexa Skills Store.  Alexa for Business offers additional APIs, which you can use to add context to your skills and automate administrative tasks.

Alexa for Business is available now. For more information on Alexa for business, go here.

Image: YouTube

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he...