Amazon wants to make Alexa the ‘UI for the enterprise’
Alexa for Business could bring AI and 'smart home automation' to businesses large and small.
To date, virtual assistants have mostly operated in the home. That’s about to change in a potentially big way, with Amazon’s announcement of Alexa for Business at its recent AWS re:invent conference.
Amazon envisions enterprises buying hundreds (or thousands) of Echo devices and provisioning them throughout work environments. Contemplated use cases (many are illustrated in the video below) include:
- booking meetings and conference rooms.
- calendaring/scheduling events.
- joining conference calls.
- retrieving data during meetings or presentations.
- executing “smart home” functions in the office — adjusting thermostats, turning on lights and more.
- office supplies/produce purchasing (from Amazon, of course).
While most of the “skills” (voice apps) that currently exist for Alexa in the home are not useful, there’s enormous potential in the enterprise to build or integrate with productivity tools that actually help people or groups accomplish specific tasks.
A partial list of partners or integrations revealed during the announcement includes:
- Capital One
Alexa is also integrated with Office 365.
For Amazon, the benefits of moving into the enterprise include:
- sales of more Alexa devices.
- helps boost AWS vs. Google and Microsoft.
- reinforces consumer usage of Alexa (at home and work) vs. competitive devices.
- makes Alexa/Echo generally more useful and relevant (if my personal and work calendars are managed on one platform).
- may help advance Amazon as a third-party payments platform.
- boosts Amazon as supply chain provider/replacement.
- extends the Alexa developer ecosystem into the enterprise.
Google, IBM and Microsoft — any cloud services or AI company — will need to respond sooner rather than later. And because Alexa has such a head start in the home, with a roughly 70 percent (or greater) market share, it has an advantage.
What’s at stake here is ownership of the “UI for the enterprise” and the larger technology ecosystem.
What could hold back Amazon and Alexa is poor-quality experiences, slow partner and ecosystem development or the failure of enterprise “skills” to materialize. However, in this enterprise context, Google’s superior knowledge base doesn’t matter as much if third-party tools and integrations provide the functionality and Alexa is just the voice-enabled front end.