Virtual personal assistants are quickly becoming all the rage within Unified Communications. We've seen Cisco introduce their Spark (now WebEx) Assistant, and more recently just had Vonage release Vee, a personal assistant designed to help you get the most out of your service. But Virtual assistants aren't just popping up in businesses: there's a big consumer market for them as well. If you haven't heard of Amazon's Alexa and Echo devices, Google's Home or the Apple HomePod, then you must be living under a rock.
Many of us that have these devices at home probably already realize how useful they can be in the office. Turns out, Amazon realized this as well, launching an entire Alexa for Business platform, enabling users to take advantage of Alexa in their workplace. Probably one of the most popular virtual assistants available, we wanted to take a closer look at exactly what Alexa for Business is, and how you can best utilize an Echo device to boost your productivity in the office, and in your web conferencing solution.
Alexa for Business
Originally launched back in November of 2017, Alexa for Business introduces a new way to leverage the power of Amazon's Echo devices. Whether you have a simple Echo Dot, or a more complex, video enabled Echo Show, you can utilize Alexa in your daily work days as well.
Imagine if you can simply walk into your office, and instead of pouring through emails, or Slack messages, you simply ask Alexa for a quick rundown, or a flash briefing, of the day ahead. Alexa for Business brings a new set of functionalities to the virtual assistant, which could provide quite a large boost to your productivity.
More importantly, Alexa for Business also provides organizations with tools and resources needed to setup and manage multiple Alexa devices, even at a large scale, utilize both public and private Alexa skills, and of course onboard users into the platform.
Simply put, "Alexa for business brings the Alexa you know and love into the workplace to help all types of workers to be more productive and organized on both personal and shared Echo devices." With voice commands, Alexa provides workers with a huge productivity boost, enabling a new level of multitasking.
Just ask Alexa for information without having to switch applications, or take your time searching for what you need. Alternatively, users could also ask Alexa to jot down a note quickly, or update a to-do list, without forcing them to change their focus away from their task.
Shared vs Personal Devices
A bit of an interesting detail I think worth take a quick look at is how Alexa can be implemented in your office. Amazon explains that users can utilize Echo devices as either "shared devices or personal devices." Shared devices can simply be placed in common office areas, like conference rooms or huddle rooms, enabling anyone to utilize Alexa.
On the flip side, workers can also use their own personal devices, enabling them to connect both at work and at home. There are a few pretty interesting distinctions made between these two that Amazon points to.
Shared devices can be used to:
- Join meetings in conference rooms. Simply say "Alexa, start the meeting," and Alexa will turn on all video conferencing equipment, dial into the call, and help get everything going.
- Provide help around the office. Users can access custom skills to help with directions around the office, or maybe finding an open conference room, report on an equipment problem within the office, or maybe even order new supplies.
- Turn your Echo device into a conference room scheduling tool.
Personal devices can be used to:
- Calling and messaging -- Alexa can help place phone calls and even send messages through simple voice commands.
- Automatically dial into conference calls. Alexa is able to join any meeting with a conference call number, whether you're in the office, at home, or on the go.
- Alexa can act as an intelligent assistant and quickly check calendars, help schedule meetings, manage to-do lists and set reminders.
- Alexa can also be utilized to help you find information quickly, and can specifically integrate with popular apps like Salesforce, Concur and Splunk.
Private vs Public Skills
In order for Alexa to be as helpful as she can be, she has to learn a set of Skills. These Skills broaden Alexa's functionality beyond what's standard, and truly enable Alexa to provide a virtual assistant experience. According to Amazon, Skills are like Apps for Alexa, they enable the assistant to provide entirely new functions and interact with different platforms and other apps.
Users can download from a list of Skills that already exist in the Skills Store, or even go ahead and create their own skills. Skills that can be find within the store are considered Public Skills, everyone has access to them. But with Alexa for Business, users can go ahead and create their own unique Private Skills, and publish these skills privately to your business only.
Private Skills would be great to use if your business wants to develop its own proprietary Skills for Alexa, like maybe a direct interaction with your existing conference room scheduling tool, or your current team collaboration solution.
Public Skills to Consider
While Amazon has an entire website dedicated to developing your own Private Skills, the process might be a bit too time consuming for many. Thankfully a massive Skills Store already exists with a pretty impressive list of integrations and Skills available for you to choose from. We wanted to put together a quick list of some of the best Public Skills to help you get started with Alexa for Business in your conference room.
While this is a bit of an exclusive Skill, it's still a great example of just what Alexa is capable of when it comes to boosting your productivity. If your business utilizes RingByName's service, then this Alexa skill is an absolute must have. Integrating your VoIP service with your Echo device enables users to make calls hands-free with Alexa's voice commands. This skill lets users call any phone number or extension, or even call a contact stored in the directory by name.
If you need help sorting through those thousands of emails, Astrobot is here to help. An intelligent email assistant, Astrobot helps users manage their Gmail or Office 365 email with voice commands from any Alexa enabled device. Users can catch up on their most important emails thanks to Astrobot's Priority sorting, utilizing AI to categorize emails into a Priority Inbox. Astrobot can also help sort through emails by deleting and archiving, or even send quick replies like "running late" or "out of the office."
3. Quick Events
Let Alexa organize your calendar for you with the Quick Events skill. This Skill enables Alexa to look for a scheduling conflicts in your calendar, and helps users ensure that there is space open when they attempt to schedule a new event. This is a simple skill that doesn't provide too much functionality, but what it does provide can be incredibly useful. Simply tell Alexa to add a new event to your calendar, specify the time and date -- if there is a conflict, Alexa will inform the user right away, enabling them to reschedule.
4. Vonage Conference Manager
Vonage's Conference Manager is again a great example of how powerful Alexa's Skills can be. With the Conference manager, users can link directly to their Google calendar to identify the next scheduled conference call, and dial in automatically. Compatible with Cisco WebEx, Goto Meeting, BlueJeans and of course the Vonage Business conferencing solution, this is available to a wide range of users. Save yourself the hassle of dialing into a conference, and let Alexa handle the process for you. Alexa will extract all the necessary conference information, dial the bridge number, meeting number, participant code, and then call your number to connect you to the conference.
Similar to the RingByName Skill for Alexa, this skill is exclusive to Phone.com users. This skill enables Alexa to place phone calls using your Phone.com service, directly from your Echo device with simple voice commands. In fact, this Skill can even place calls from your softphone, so you don't even need to use a keypad or keyboard -- instead just tell Alexa who to call.
Voice Metrics enables users to ask Alexa for a quick update on how their business is doing. This Skill integrates directly with any Google Sheet or Slack Board, or any other own solution with a REST API, to provide users with an update on various metrics and business data, ranging from sales, orders, customers, inventory status to different department updates. Depending on whatever you upload into Voice Metrics, this Skill enables Alexa to provide you with various updates. For example, simply ask Alexa to "ask Voice Metrics for Sales," and receive a quick update on the latest sales.
If you're looking to replace Alexa's basic to-do list functionality, Any.do is a great alternative. Combining together a to-do list, calendar and reminder functionality into a single Skill, providing users with an easier to use platform for taking control of their day. Use Alexa to keep track of your current tasks, upcoming tasks, calendar events, and set reminders throughout the day to stay focused.
8. Edit Docs
Ever have a quick thought jump into your head, so you jot it down quickly, but then you completely lost focus on your current task? Jumping around from app to app, or thought to though, can leave us distracted and waste precious time. With Edit Docs, instead of having to jump to that Google Doc to jot down a quick note, simply tell Alexa to do it for you. Just tell Alexa to add a quick note or make an edit to a google doc, so you don't have to switch apps and lose your focus. This Skill also enables Alexa to list the last ten used files, or even create a new doc, sheet or presentation.
Need to keep track of your time spent on a task? Need a timer to help stay focused? Work Time Tracker is a great Skill that enables Alexa to do both -- simply tell Alexa to track time, and tell her to stop when you're done. This simple skill can go a long way enabling users to take control of their productivity, and great for anyone that would like to gain a deeper understanding of how long it takes for tasks to be completed to allow for better planning.
Slack is probably the most popular team collaboration and messaging application, and for good reason. This simple app enables rapid fire communication, enabling teams to make quick decisions, and collaborate in record time. And now you can communicate on Slack without ever having to lift a finger. The Chatbot for Slack Skill for Alexa enables users to message on Slack, right through Alexa's voice commands. Simply state the channel and message you would like to send, and let Alexa do the work for you.
The Bottom Line
Virtual Assistants are quickly making their way into our homes, so why shouldn't they make their way into our offices as well? These virtual companions can help us stay focused on what's important, while enabling entirely new levels of productivity and multitasking. Thanks to Amazon's Alexa for Business initiative, and the ability to create our own Skills, we can transform Alexa into our very own business assistant.
Instead of wasting time switching to a different app, or picking up your phone, let Alexa do the work for you. With these simple, yet powerful, skills, we can bring Alexa into the office and transform these small devices into our very own personal assistants.