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Grow Your Business Technology

Alexa for Business: What Small to Medium Businesses Need to Know

Alexa
Credit: Piano Diaphragm/Shutterstock

Amazon has officially rolled out Alexa for Business, bringing the voice assistant into the office to improve efficiency and convenience. Alexa devices – the Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Dot or Tap – may have assisted in business matters before, but the company was largely focused on personal use by consumers. Amazon offers other Alexa-enabled devices that may not be as perfect for business but could still be connected, including the Echo Spot, Echo Show and Echo Look. The virtual assistant is so in demand these days that Acer, Asus and HP announced they would be adding the AI to its Windows 10 laptops in 2018, offering direct competition for Microsoft's Cortana. 

With Alexa for Business, Amazon packed more features into Alexa so that it can support an office environment. It added shared devices, which are public devices anyone can use. This model allows for easy communication in the workplace and a removal of hum-drum corporate tasks, like ordering new printer paper, turning on video conferencing equipment, setting reminders, joining video calls, reporting broken equipment and giving office directions – Alexa can take care of it all in half the time, at least according to Amazon.

Before this new business version of Alexa, workers could easily integrate their personal Alexa device into their office flow by setting up skills, integrating their email or calendar through IFTT or managing to-do lists. But now those benefits expand to more than just the boss. Employees will be able to access all those same benefits, plus more.

Whether Alexa is right for your business or not depends largely on who your employees are, what kinds of processes can be made more efficient using voice commands and if you're willing to spend the money. The service is based on a monthly subscription of $7 per shared device per month and $3 per enrolled user per month (in addition to the cost of the actual devices). This payment model might be fairly reasonable, depending on how large your business is.

[RELATED: Amazon Business: What It Is and How It Can Benefit You]

Amazon broke down Alexa for Business into two device categories: shared and personal devices. Shared devices can be placed around the office in public locations and can be used by anyone. These are the devices that will be placed in conference rooms, lobbies, printing rooms, kitchens or other companywide spaces. Ideally, you and your IT department can set up skills on these devices – just like normal Alexa devices – so your staff can use Alexa to complete general tasks.

Personal devices are devices for individual workers. These devices have "enrolled users" with Alexa accounts so Alexa can complete personal tasks like managing to-do lists and setting reminders. Personal devices can also send messages and conduct calls, access calendars, schedule meetings and find information in popular programs like Salesforce. Personal users can have their at-home Alexa account integrated so they can use their home office Alexa devices as well.

Amazon's devices range in price from $29.99 to $229.99 (plus a monthly subscription of $7 per shared device and $3 per enrolled user). Enrolled users are workers who will use personal devices at work. You don't need to personally enroll everyone in your business to use shared devices. For example, if your business wanted to add two personal devices and three shared ones, you would be charged $6 per month for the personal devices and $21 per month for the shared devices, totaling $27 per month for that number of shared devices and enrolled users.

For example, a company with 7 shared devices and 25 enrolled users – all using a personalized Alexa device – would cost $49 for the shared devices and $75 for the enrolled users. That's a total of $124 per month, in addition to however much money your company decides to spend on the physical Alexa devices as well.

Alexa can be found in the EchoEcho DotEcho PlusEcho SpotEcho ShowEcho LookTapFire TVFire Tablets and a host of non-Amazon hardware. The Amazon-specific hardware ranges from $40 to $230.

One of the marquee features of Alexa for Business is Alexa's ability to start video conferences through voice command. Alexa can be synced with a corporate calendar so you don't even need a meeting ID or conference call number to set up your conferences. Instead, say "Alexa, start the meeting," and Alexa will turn on the video conferencing equipment and join the respective meeting. This could be a convenient feature. It also eliminates time spent fiddling with equipment while you set up your meeting.

This dashboard is the command center for your company's entire Alexa for Business experience. You can manage users or devices, add or remove skills on devices, manage video conferencing options, invite new users, manage corporate calendars and view shared devices. Amazon also provides detailed steps on its website to view and use these features.

Another way to manage Alexa for Business using the dashboard is to view the room profiles. You can assign a room to each shared device, marking its location and place in your office's ecosystem. Skill groups can then be added or removed from devices based on what room they are in. You can also enable custom skills for each user on each device, giving you control over who has access to which skills.

Amazon provides different skills and integrations with third-party apps to make your business run more efficiently, but you can also build your own skills and use Alexa for Business APIs. Once integrated with Alexa, these skills can be kept private for internal business use.

Overall, this dashboard will help you set up and implement this system for your business. The center is organized in an intuitive way so that it's easy to manage and adjust settings as your business's use of Alexa changes.

Alexa for Business can add a level of convenience, but it may not revolutionize your workflow. If your workers already have personal devices and love them, it may be worth it to add some enrolled users so they can use their devices at work in a centralized, integrated way. Adding one or two shared devices could quickly make your office more efficient, but otherwise, it may not be worth it.

It doesn't seem like many business owners will be willing to take on extra monthly costs just to make video conferencing and setting reminders easier. Amazon is touting this new software as something that will pull companies into a more high-tech era, but it's not clear whether adding Alexa to your office will make things easier or just louder.

Matt D'Angelo

Matt D'Angelo is a B2B Tech Staff Writer based in New York City. After graduating from James Madison University with a degree in Journalism, Matt gained experience as a copy editor and writer for newspapers and various online publications. Matt joined the Purch team in 2017 and covers technology for Business.com and Business News Daily. Follow him on Twitter or email him.