IT Leadership

Alexa for Business: The smart assistant for your office?

User experience is increasingly becoming critical component of how enterprises are looking to enhance productivity among its workforce and gaining competitive advantage. In the executive suite, it is surely a talking point and will soon make its way into the boardroom agenda. Speech as a new UI for businesses looks promising and can be leveraged for better productivity. Amazon Web Services launched Alexa for Business in November 2017, making it easier for companies to deploy and centrally manage large numbers of Echo Devices on a network. In conversation with Madhusudan Shekar, Head – Digital Innovation, Amazon Internet Services, we talked about what Alexa for Business can do to enhance workplace productivity and more.

Robin Chatterjee (RC): How can businesses leverage voice input for day to day operations?

Madhusudan Shekar (MS): Voice is the next journey into the 21st century from our user engagement application solutions standpoint. It allows us to do a number of activities that are simple, straightforward, and very effective to do. For example, a smart home without Alexa would be inconvenient because you’re dependent on your smartphone for all the access controls. To switch off your light in one room you might have to walk to the other room to pick your phone first. In context of an enterprise, applying for a personal time off in itself is a 5-6 minute process. With Alexa all you have to say is, “Alexa set personal time off on February 14th.”  It does the entire process for you and you get an email acknowledgment saying it’s done.  Alexa for Business comes integrated with conferencing solutions like Amazon Chime, CISCO, Polycom and other vendors in the market. It also integrates with the smart room capabilities of the conference room. So, meeting bridge will be dialled, a projector will come on, your display will come up, your screen will come down, your shades will pull up, all this when you say “Alexa start the meeting.” This is just the starting point.

RC: Can you cite an example where different industry verticals have a use-case with respect to Alexa for Business?

MS: Let’s look at the retail stores. Alexa can answer customer queries like ‘tell me more about this product?’ In hospitality context, Alexa can take room service orders, can tell you what services are available, which restaurants are close by, and can even make a reservation for you in a restaurant. The Wynn Las Vegas is already using Alexa in some of its rooms.

RC: Unlike Alexa for consumers, the business version will need to comply with data privacy regulations and should offer stringent security features. How it is being addressed?

MS: Let me start with the most fundamental statement. Alexa for Business data belongs to the enterprise/customer. The Alexa device and the Alexa service belongs to Amazon and AWS. The enterprise can build skills that they can host and only applicable to them. The data that enterprise apps will integrate already lives within the enterprise environment. Like SAP or your ERP product, enterprise apps integrated with Alexa for Business will pull data from the its own premise so that it can service you. Alexa for Business connects to the various APIs in your enterprise and uses the data so that it can be rendered in speech form. Most importantly, it is covered by the AWS Enterprise Agreement and not the Alexa Consumer Agreement. Gaining customer’s trust is what we have followed as a practice in AWS for the last 12 years and we believe we will continue to do that, forever.

RC: Alexa for Business is currently unavailable in India. When can we expect it to launch?

MS: I would not be able to speculate on any rollouts. But I can say that whenever it will be available it will serve businesses of all sizes. Whether you are a small startup or a large enterprise, you can get started with Alexa for Business and should be able to manage, identify device managers with specified skills, which can differentiate between personal space and enterprise space seamlessly.

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