The hands of an entrepreneur are often as tired and calloused as the hands of a laborer because we have our hands in everything.
This is why the promise of hands-free technology is so appealing.
And since many of us are already using Amazon Echo in our home, which allows us to check the morning traffic, get news headlines, and even adjust our thermostat using nothing but voice commands, it’s exciting that Amazon has announced Alexa for Business.
A New Spin on a Proven Technology
Alexa for Business plans to leverage the same Alexa skills we use at home while providing more user control and additional business applications. Its goal is to improve workflows and make technology both quicker and easier to access.
A key advantage of Alexa for Business is that you can enroll users on a large scale and assign them individual access to specific skills. You can also create custom skills that are tailored directly to your company’s needs and technology systems, like “Alexa, notify IT of an equipment issue.”
It’s worth noting the devices are the same as what you’re already using at home; the difference is they are set up via a business account that can be managed from a central console. The Alexa for Business Starter Kit retails for $709.93 and includes 3 Echos, 2 Echo Dots, and 2 Echo Shows.
Amazon Alexa gained over 14,000 skills last year because it allows third-party software developers to create apps and skills independently from Amazon.
Several proven developers are creating professional skills that should go live soon, including the ability to read your voicemail, provide company sales statistics, and file paid time off.
For now, here’s a sample of common Alexa skills that have business applicability:
- Sending and checking email.
- Conference calls.
- Scheduling appointments and reminders on your calendar.
- Adding items to a to-do or shopping list.
- Accessing banking information (from participating banks) using a 4-digit PIN. You can even pay credit card bills.
- Background music.
- Providing news and NASDAQ information.
- Ordering supplies through Amazon.
There’s also a heap of compatible hardware that can be purchased separately, and the following may be useful in the professional world:
- Smart Locks allow you to lock and unlock doors. Several models allow you to receive phone alerts whenever a door is unlocked and other models allow you to assign temporary access via a keypad.
- Smart Plugs grant control of a wall electrical outlet, which means you could turn on your coffee maker without leaving your desk.
- Smart Lights allow you to control a light switch. This could be handy in meeting rooms where you often dim the lights for PowerPoint or video presentations.
- The Amazon Echo Show provides hands-free video calling and visual access to compatible security cameras.
Many businesses will grow uneasy at the potential security implications of an “always listening” device. You may feel compelled to manually mute the microphone which negates its hands-free benefits.
Like Wi-Fi, Alexa’s security depends on strong passwords and frequent updates.
Communication between your router and smart devices is encrypted, so there’s little chance of it being hacked, but a bigger risk is an unauthorized person who speaks directly to your Echo, which is where the Alexa for Business user control features become so important.
Even with them, it’s necessary to consider who might overhear conversations with Alexa.
I’ve been using Alexa in my office for over a year, and I’m excited to see it becoming more business-oriented. I spend much of my time typing, so it’s a relief to perform small tasks hand-free.
But I’ve concluded my Alexa is more of a novelty than a personal assistant.
For example, even though a standard Echo can schedule meetings, I still add appointments by computer because I need to visualize my calendar. And while an Echo Show could display this information, I’d rather not have an extra screen on my desk when access to my calendar requires only two mouse clicks.
I also sometimes find it awkward to talk to Alexa when other people are around, particularly if we’re working in silence. And vice versa, it’s a distraction whenever I hear someone else speaking to Alexa.
I’ve noticed if you place multiple Echo devices too close together, you’ll often get answers from all of them at once, so I have a hard time imagining their usability in a cubicle environment.
Is it Time to Buy?
I don’t foresee any companies gaining a competitive advantage because they are an early adopter of this technology, so I’d recommend waiting until Alexa for Business is further developed.
After all, when I asked my Alexa to tell me about Alexa for Business, her answer was, “Sorry, I don’t know that one.”
Adam Lucas holds a Finance degree and an MBA from the University of Kentucky. His work has appeared in many major outlets including AARP.org and GoBankingRates.com.