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, 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.
What you need to know
How it works
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 like ordering new supplies, giving directions, reporting equipment problems or finding open conference rooms.
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.
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.
Alexa for Business console
Amazon provides an entire console for your IT department to manage Alexa devices. From this screen, users can add skills to devices, assign a room for a device, manage users and enrolled users, adjust conferencing and calendar access, and invite new users into the system. Amazon centralized all the back-end IT development aspects so that Alexa is easy to integrate into your business.
Is it right for your business?
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.