While Amazon’s Alexa has become a popular tool for turning on lights, playing music and storing your shopping lists, it is now providing added benefits in the workplace.
Whether it’s answering employee questions or scheduling meetings, Alexa for Business is a useful device for increasing productivity around the office. However, some professionals are hesitant to use this 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. These allow you to create your own skills in a matter of minutes, free of charge and with no coding required. It’s one of a growing number of technologies that can improve productivity while saving money.
While your Alexa at home is focused on more personal tasks, Alexa for Business is designed specifically to help employees stay organized by answering their questions and boosting productivity.
With Alexa for Business, employers can install shared devices throughout their workplaces. For example, they can be placed in conference rooms and used to launch and control conferencing systems. Shared devices could also be placed in other areas, like copy rooms and lobbies.
Among the Alexa devices you can use in this way 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. They can tap into Alexa for Business on any Alexa device at work or at home. Being able to access Alexa for Business from home devices gives employees the ability to access their calendar and other personal skills from their office or living room.
The setup process for Alexa for Business starts by registering and setting up an account in the Alexa for Business console. Next, 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 of Alexa for Business consists of two components. There is a monthly fee for each shared device your organization has and how many enrolled users there are.
If your company wants to take advantage of Alexa for Business in common spaces like conference rooms and lobbies, rather than having employees use the service in their offices or at home, you don’t have to have any enrolled users. Simply pay the monthly fee for each shared device.
Businesses of all sizes can take advantage of Alexa for Business in a variety of ways. Shared devices can be placed anywhere in an office, commonly in conference rooms, since Alexa for Business can integrate with popular video conferencing services.
This is some of the currently compatible hardware:
Alexa for Business also integrates Office 365, Google Workspace and Microsoft Exchange calendars. This allows you to use voice commands to look up scheduled meetings or automatically join meetings from a number of unified communications systems, including Amazon Chime, BlueJeans, Cisco, RingCentral and Zoom video conferencing.
We’ve previously identified Webex as the best video conferencing service for collaboration.
Specific functions Alexa can handle include starting, joining, and ending a meeting, and requesting a call to the IT department if technical difficulties arise. We consider some other common uses below.
Harsha Reddy, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Small Biz Genius, was considering hiring an office assistant who could help with meetings and keeping other loose ends in order. Instead, the company opted for Alexa for Business to handle some of those tasks.
“We are mainly using Alexa for checking into 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 join meetings, access companywide applications, check calendars, create to-do lists, set reminders, and make calls.
As the CEO of Ecopreneurist, Ollie Smith has seen the value of 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. In addition, the intuitive system allows my managers to monitor individual device usage from the central dashboard, saving valuable time in the process.”
David Alexander, owner of educational blog Mazepress, said he has used Alexa in his office for the past two years and found it beneficial. He believes the digital assistant can speed up your workflow if you use 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.”
Examples of Alexa for Business skills and their benefits for small business
Each business (and industry) will have its own requirements and opportunities for specific skills. Here are four universal examples of how Alexa for Business can be used and the benefits it offers.
The ability to create and offer these skills to employees might tip the balance in favor of Amazon’s virtual assistant over other AI smart speakers. Read our full AI review of Siri vs. Cortana vs. Google Assistant vs. Alexa.
While the above skills are suitable for most clients and industries, Alexa for Business comes into its own when you create skills that are specific to how your business runs. Prebuilt skills may be beneficial, but many organizations want skills tailored to their needs.
Some firms may turn to coding experts and developers, but Amazon has made the process of creating your own skills relatively simple. Using its Skill Blueprints, people without coding skills can create private skills to be used exclusively 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,” the company 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.
Q&A skills allow you to create questions (with answers) your employees may ask, such as “Who handles our social media?” or “When is the help desk available?”
Using Blueprints, an administrator logs in and types out a specific question, alongside variations of the same query string in case someone doesn’t ask it exactly as it’s written. The answer is provided and can be customized with welcome and ending messages. Once the skill is named and published, it can be used only by enrolled users within your organization.
The other main type of business skill created using Amazon Blueprints are onboarding guides for new employees, which are vital to avoid the damage of poor onboarding. Instead of providing new recruits with a printed handbook or a link to a website with pertinent information, an Alexa onboarding guide allows them to ask Alexa questions they may have.
Common questions might include “Alexa, how do I set up my email on my phone” or “Alexa, how do I mail a package?” They could include information on the location of the cafeteria or copy room, or contact info for different departments and employees.
For the onboarding guide, include all the questions you want to answer, and then type out the steps involved in completing each question. Once your private skills have been published, you can decide which rooms you want them available in and whether you want each enrolled user to have access to them from any device.
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, IT consultant and founder of Privacy Australia. “Most hackers won’t care what you talk about at home, but you can bet that some will care about what is going on in a business setting.”
[Read related article: Preventing and Avoiding Network Security Threats and Vulnerabilities]
Neil Cumins contributed to the writing and research in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.