Alexa for Business: How to bring AI to your organization

 In End-User Devices, Hardware, Solutions

Alexa is going to work.

Alexa for Business, which launched in November 2017, lets businesses create custom voice command sets called skills, provision and manage Alexa devices, and integrate said skills with other technologies. It automates repetitive or tedious tasks around the office, freeing workers for more impactful tasks.

AI will have wide-ranging impact in the workplace, and Alexa for Business is one of the first steps. But before you hire Alexa, you should ask yourself a few questions.

What can Alexa do for your organization?

There are as many application possibilities as there are organizations, and you should think through what specific problems you have that a voice assistant could solve.

Here are some examples of how Alexa can save time and resources in the workplace:

  • Provide the status of IT tickets to employees
  • Connect to HR resources to tell employees how many sick days they’ve taken, how many vacation days they have, and put in a request for a day off
  • Alert employees to closed offices or other changes due to inclement weather or emergencies
  • Provide information, from contract descriptions to purchase statuses to internal memos or bulletins
  • Run through the day’s specials and entrees at the cafeteria

What are the advantages of using Alexa for Business?

For one, there’s the name recognition. Your employees are likely already familiar with voice assistant interactions at home, so the transition at work would be minimal. Employees can register an Amazon account with their workplace’s internal Alexa for Business service to use their workplace skills with any assigned device, whether an Echo, Dot, or even the Alexa tool in the Amazon app.

There’s a lot of flexibility in the skills you can develop for Alexa, from reading from an RSS feed to reading from a database to API integrations. Amazon has created a fairly open platform to work with.

The cost of implementing is reasonable. Registering users and devices for the service comes at a low monthly cost compared to other solutions. The total cost will depend on the scope of what you want to achieve.

If you’re just looking to create a couple skills that reiterate static information or provide a simple alert, that’s fairly simple. If you’re a larger enterprise looking for Alexa to play a more ambitious role, you’ll have to consider the cost of the resources needed to implement those skills, spin up AWS servers, act as administrators for your Alexa for Business program, and so on.

But no matter what you’re attempting, the tools you’re able to get from Alexa for Business will benefit all employees. HR can use APIs from their employee attendance/payroll management services to monitor sick days, days off, and so on. The executive team gathered in a conference room can use voice commands to turn on the projector, dim the lights, and dial the conference line.

What should our organization consider before getting started?

Before jumping in, there are several factors to think through:

1. Resources. Alexa is only as helpful as the skills you program for her. So make sure you have the resources to start making those applications.

Some organizations use developers already on their team. Alexa supports a lot of languages, which makes it easy to start building apps quickly. But keep in mind your team’s availability. If you’re in the middle of a major project, developers might not be available to help with this initiative. There’s always the option of hiring developers specifically for Alexa, or outsourcing the work to a third party.

2. Security. Every company has different concerns when it comes to security, so look into any potential risks that might arise from creating certain skills. Make sure you have a secure way to feed Alexa information you want to put out, restrict the requests certain users can make if sensitive data is involved, and generally understand the scope of Alexa for Business.

Unlike traditional Alexa skill creation, skills published with the Alexa for Business platform are not exposed to the public. Instead, an Alexa for Business account is controlled by the company using it, with internal administrators designating specific user accounts allowed under the company’s Alexa for Business “umbrella.” Administrators can choose which of these registered users are permitted to access certain custom skills published under Alexa for Business.

Skills are created by the company using Amazon’s Lambda platform, and are published quietly to their Alexa for Business account, where they can only be seen by company administrators and designated accounts.  No other users can see these skills or access information provided by these skills, ensuring that potentially sensitive information will only be relegated to trusted users.

Many skills, when created with security, in mind would likely request more innocuous details. For example, a skill to pull information about contracts would more likely focus on administrative details like the contract number, who it was for, what manager invoked it, and so on, not the actual contents of the contract, like the amount of the deal.

3. Testing. Before getting started in earnest, run a test case for your company. Identify a bottleneck or a particular problem or just a time-consuming lower-level task that could benefit from an AI solution. Assemble a team of three to four people, assign them a test account, and have them develop a simple app.

Demo the app to the company and gauge the reaction. If they like it, you can springboard to larger, more ambitious apps. But always start simple and get buy in before trying something more involved.

Keep testing as part of your process as you continue to add skills. Unlike the Alexa skills released to the public, Alexa for Business doesn’t pass skills through Amazon for a thorough review before they go public. Before releasing any Alexa skills on your own platform, put them through a week or so of testing to make sure every command gets the response you expect and that the skill doesn’t inadvertently pull information it shouldn’t, for example.

Why Alexa for Business is the future

Every organization wastes time on a day-to-day basis. Employees answer the same simple questions over and over for their coworkers. Bottlenecks form when one person is a source of knowledge and email replies are delayed.

AI is always present, always alert, and always ready to respond. Alexa for Business allows employees to focus on more important, more strategic tasks instead of the simple, repetitive queries that a voice assistant can handle just fine.

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