Amazon provides blueprints that allow anyone to create Alexa for Business skills.
- Alexa for Business is a voice assistant that helps improve your company's productivity.
- It allows for shared devices to be placed throughout your office and for employees to tap into on their personal devices.
- Using Amazon's Skills Blueprints, you can create customized Alexa skills without any coding experience.
- The two business-specific skills you can create are business Q&As and onboarding guides.
While Amazon's Alexa has become a popular tool for turning on lights, playing music and storing your shopping lists at home, it is now providing some added benefits in the workplace.
Whether it's answering employee questions or scheduling meetings, Alexa for Business is finding itself to be a useful device for increasing productivity around the office. However, some professionals are hesitant to use the voice assistant because they are unsure how difficult ‒ and costly ‒ it will be to create the tasks they want to implement.
The good news for nontechnical professionals is that Amazon has released its own "Skill Blueprints" that allow you to create your own skills, no coding required, in just minutes for free.
What is Alexa for Business?
Similar to how it is used in homes across the world, Alexa for Business is an intelligent voice assistant that can complete tasks for you. While your Alexa at home is likely focused on more personal tasks, Alexa for Business is designed specifically to help employees stay organized, answer their questions and boost productivity.
With Alexa for Business, employers can install shared devices throughout their workplace. For example, they can be placed in conference rooms and used, among other things, to launch and control conferencing systems. Shared devices can also be placed in other areas, like common areas, copy rooms, lobbies, etc. Among the Alexa devices you can use as shared devices are the Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Dot.
In addition, employees can have their own devices in their offices to help them boost productivity by managing their calendars and to-do lists. When used in personal spaces, like an office, employees are considered enrolled users.
As an enrolled user, employees can tap into Alexa for Business on any Alexa device at work or at home. Being able to access Alexa for Business from their home Alexa devices gives employees the ability to access their calendar and other personal skills regardless of whether they are in their office or their own living room.
Setting up Alexa for Business is a simple process. You first register and set up your account in the Alexa for Business console. You then purchase the devices you want for your business. Once they arrive, follow the steps in the Amazon Admin Guide for device setup and to start enrolling individual users.
The cost for Alexa for Business consists of two parts. There are monthly fees for each shared device your organization has and how many enrolled users there are. The specific monthly costs are:
- Shared devices: $7 per device
- Enrolled users: $3 per user
If, however, your business just wants to take advantage of Alexa for Business in common spaces like conference rooms and lobbies, and not have employees using the service on a personal basis in their offices or at home, you don't have to have any enrolled users, and can just pay the monthly fee for each shared device you have.
How to use Alexa for Business
There are many different ways businesses of all sizes can take advantage of what Alexa for Business has to offer. Shared devices can be placed in a number of different places around your office. One of the most common is in a conference room.
Alexa for Business can integrate with a number of popular video conferencing equipment, including Cisco TelePresence Systems, Cisco Webex Rooms kit, Polycom Group Series, Zoom Rooms and Crestron 3-Series. Additionally, Alexa for Business is builtin to Polycom Trio 8500 and 8800. [Are you looking for video conferencing systems for your small business? Check out our best picks and reviews.]
Alexa for Business also integrates Office365, Google G Suite and Microsoft Exchange calendars. The integration allows you to use voice commands to look up your scheduled meeting. In addition, it can automatically join meetings from a number of unified communications systems, including Amazon Chime, BlueJeans, Cisco Webex, RingCentral and Zoom.
Among some of the specific functions you can ask Alexa to handle while in a meeting include asking it to start a meeting, join a meeting, end a meeting, or if you are having technical difficulties, to call the IT department.
You can also use Alexa for Business to book meeting rooms, find out who has booked certain rooms, ask when the next meeting in that room is scheduled for and to extend the time you have booked in a conference room.
Editor's Note: Looking for a video conferencing solution? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors that can help.
Harsha Reddy, co-founder and editor in chief of SmallBizGenius.net, was considering hiring an office assistant who could help with meetings and keeping other loose ends in order. Instead, their business opted for Alexa for Business to handle some of those tasks.
"We are mainly using Alexa for checking in to meetings and taking care of schedules, as well as checking in on various processes' progress," Reddy said. "We had her connected to our company Google Calendar and our individual working calendars."
Employees who are enrolled users can use Alexa in a number of ways: to schedule and joining meetings, access companywide applications, check their calendar, create to-do lists, set reminders and make calls.
Ollie Smith, CEO of Energy Seek, said he has seen great value from using Alexa for Business.
"In my experience, the service has enabled my employees to become much more productive through the automated management of schedules, reminder alerts and the option to dial into team conference calls remotely," Smith said. "In addition, the intuitive system allows my managers to monitor individual device usage from the central dashboard, saving valuable time in the process."
Digital marketer David Alexander said he has used Alexa in his office for the past two years and has found it beneficial. He believes the digital assistant can speed your workflow if you are using the right skills.
"Using Alexa as a digital virtual assistant can definitely save you time in the office, but it largely depends on the type of recurring tasks you can automate, and this differs from person to person," Alexander said. "I do expect to see more enterprise suites and features become available over the next year or two that will broaden the possibilities of Alexa."
How to create your own Alexa skills
You are likely to get the most benefit from Alexa for Business if you create the type of skills that support how you run your business. While there are a lot of prebuilt skills that can help, many organizations want specific skills tailored to their needs.
While some organizations may turn to coding experts and developers, Amazon has made the process of creating your own private skills a relatively simple task. Using its "Skill Blueprints," those without coding skills can create private skills to be used only by their organization and employees.
According to Amazon, Alexa private skills are voice-powered capabilities that enhance the Alexa experience while remaining private to members of an Alexa for Business organization.
"With Alexa for Business Blueprints, you don't need to write a single line of code to create a private skill for your workplace," Amazon writes on its website. "Select one of dozens of easy-to-use Skill Blueprints, add information, such as common questions and answers for your workplace, and publish the skill to Alexa for Business as a private skill."
There are two main types of business skills you can create without knowing any code: business Q&As and onboarding guides. The Q&A skills allow you to create questions and answers that your employees may ask that they need quick and easy answers to, such as "Who handles our social media?" or "When is the help desk available?"
Using Blueprints, you can log in, and type out a specific question and then variations of the same question in case someone doesn't ask it exactly as you have it written. You also type out the answer. You can then customize the experience by typing out welcome and ending messages. Finally, you name the skill and publish it. Unlike public skills, these private skills can only be used within your organization and by enrolled users.
The other main type of business skill you can create using Amazon Blueprints are onboarding guides for new employees. Instead of providing new employees with a link to a website with all the information or a printed handbook, you can create an onboarding guide that allows new employees to simply ask Alexa the questions they have.
For example, it might be "Alexa, tell me how to set up my email on my phone?" or "Alexa, how to I mail a package?" You can also include information on where things are in office, such as the cafeteria or copy room. Finally, you can include contact info for different departments and employees.
For the onboarding guide, you include all of the questions you want to answer and then type out the steps involved in completing each question. Once that is complete, you can include welcome and exit messages, and then publish the guide.
Once your private skills have been published, you can then decide what rooms you want them available in and whether you want each individual enrolled user to have access to them from any of their devices.
While this technology can help boost your productivity and ease some of your administrative tasks, you should be cognizant of what companywide information you are including in your skills.
Based on Amazon's recent admission that some Alexa conversations are listened in on by employees, avoid including sensitive information in your skills.
"The truth is, a malicious threat could also figure out how to hack into Alexa," said Will Ellis, founder of Privacy Australia and an IT consultant. "Most hackers won't care about what you’re talking about at home, but you can bet that some will care about what is going on in a business setting."