'Alexa, Bring Artificial Intelligence To The Office'

The question often arises of, now that you’ve gone mobile in the enterprise, what’s next?

Amazon is answering the call.

Announced Thursday, Nov. 30 at its re:Invent 2017 event in Las Vegas, Amazon is bringing Alexa – its artificial intelligence-based voice assistant – to your workplace.

The device has been utilized in the consumer world for a few years, helping users find out what the temperature is for that day, what their schedule looks like, and even turning on electronics within the home – all by voice recognition.

Now Amazon wants to bring its voice assistant to the workplace to help employees, teams, and companies work more efficiently.

In announcing Alexa For Business, the company redefines mobility to some extent; what workers have been doing with smartphones and tablets, and in some cases wearables, is beginning to get a nod in the voice assistant domain, powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. According to Amazon, some of the early basic "skills" Alexa for Business will have include:

Shared devices:

  1. 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.
  2. Help around the office: 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:

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

So while the tech-savvy employee is chomping at the bit to incorporate a new gadget into the office setting, IT administrators are shaking their heads at yet another device and software system to manage. At the outset, however, Amazon seems to have put some early controls in place to make the functionality easy to use and integrate into current office settings, but of course security will remain an issue.

Earlier this year, MWR Info Security researcher Mark Barnes announced he successfully hacked into a consumer-grade Alexa device and was able to listen in to a conversation remotely, without the device’s owner every engaging the machine or even knowing the breach took place. In that report, Barnes noted the 2015 and 2016 Amazon Echo devices were susceptible to the hack, but the 2017 version was not.

As of now, Alexa for Business offers singular access management, giving IT administrators the ability to enroll users at his or her discretion. Other than that, Alexa will rely on its baked-in security layers.

So does this make a change for the workplace? Does a virtual assistant truly streamline productivity and save time for users when it comes to conference calls, scheduling meetings, and managing to-do lists? Time will certainly tell, and while there’s no true business case yet, it’s clear artificial intelligence is finding a home in the office space, whether it’s in the form of Alexa or another service.