Amazon Alexa, the voice-based intelligent personal assistant you may have seen an early adopter friend use at home, has surprising potential to increase productivity in the workplace. Like Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana, Alexa is able to perform tasks for the user via voice commands. However, Alexa’s decentralized nature makes the system well-adapted for shared use in the workplace.
The virtual assistant is especially helpful at keeping employees focused on their primary tasks by simplifying interruptions—from adjusting a meeting time to looking up an address—into a simple voice request. In short, Alexa is a powerful tool for automating and streamlining common work procedures.
Amazon Echo is a hands-free, smart speaker that serves as a gateway interface to the Alexa Voice Service. Echo is the most practical way to use the assistant, featuring a different style of interactivity compared with similar services (which are primarily run on phones and tablets). For those who prefer a device-based option, Alexa also runs on Amazon Fire tablets.
As of January 2017, Amazon has sold over eight million Echo units.
Out of the Box
Alexa is very good at automating and simplifying mundane, simple tasks in the workplace. While the real power lies in programming Alexa to perform unique tasks, the assistant is already powerful out of the box. For example, businesses can put an Echo at the conference table during meetings and ask it questions that come up instead of opening a phone or computer and performing a Google search. Alexa is also helpful for tasks like announcing the weather forecast, adjusting background music, and controlling smart lights—all through voice commands.
For more advanced users, Alexa is compatible with Microsoft’s Office365 and can be put to work on tasks like calendar collaboration. Requesting a day off or adjusting meeting times is as simple as asking Alexa. Some businesses may find the assistant helpful for streamlining office supply orders; Alexa allows employees to add items to a shopping wish list. (Gone are the days of endless email chains and formal paper requests.) If someone discovers that paper towels are running out in the break room, or the stock closet is low on staples, they can say “Alexa, add X to my shopping wish list.”
Good ideas don’t always come at the right time. Imagine one of your staff members thinks up a great idea for an upcoming project while they are working on a more urgent one. Writing down or recording those ideas while trying to stay focused on the task at hand can be difficult and disruptive. With custom programming, that employee could tell Alexa to attach a note to the upcoming project and then get back to work. Alexa’s custom-programmed “skills” can work as standalone features or be integrated with existing applications and services to serve your business’s unique needs.
Back in the conference room, Alexa could be used on the fly to gather custom analytics like “what was our total profit last week” or “how many products did we ship in February and March” for fast responses. Programming is pretty straightforward, but the downside is that Alexa needs to recognize a range of specific phrases to work correctly.