Thursday, 27 December 2018

Alexa for Business: What Small to Medium Businesses Should Know

Amazon's Alexa for Business is a new way to bring voice commands to small businesses and corporate offices. Alexa devices – the Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Dot and Amazon 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 may still be connected, including the Echo Spot, Echo Show and Echo Look. In 2018, Alexa was integrated into just about everything, from lawn mowers to laptops. In fact, the virtual assistant is so in demand, it can now be installed on any Windows 10 computer. Plus, companies such as Acer, Asus and HP are rolling out PCs with Alexa built in, offering direct competition for Microsoft's Cortana. With Alexa for Business, Amazon loaded 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 enables easy communication in the workplace and a removal of humdrum corporate tasks, like ordering new printer paper, turning on videoconferencing equipment, setting reminders, joining video calls, reporting broken equipment and giving office directions – Alexa can take care of it all in half the time, 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. Now those benefits expand beyond the single, personal devices of employees. While workers can bring in their own devices, they can be linked with their company's Alexa for Business account so they can access all the private skills and features built by the business.

Now, whether Alexa is right for your business or not, it depends largely on who your employees are, what 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 reasonable, depending on how large your business is.

Here's what you need to know about Alexa for Business.

How it works
Amazon breaks down Alexa for Business into two device categories: shared and personal devices. Shared devices can be placed around the office in public locations for anyone to use. These are the devices that will be placed in conference rooms, lobbies, printing rooms, kitchens or other shared company spaces. Ideally, you and your IT department can set up skills on these devices – just like on normal Alexa devices – so your staff can use Alexa to complete general tasks.

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 integrate their at-home Alexa account so they can use their home-office Alexa devices as well.

Amazon's devices starts in price from $49.99 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.

For example, a company with seven shared devices and 25 enrolled users – all using a personalized Alexa device – is going to cost $49 for the shared devices and $75 for the enrolled users. That's a total of $124 per month, in addition to however much money your company decides to spend on the physical Alexa devices.

Alexa can be found in the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Plus, Echo Spot, Echo Show, Echo Look, Amazon Tap, Fire TV, Fire Tablets and a host of non-Amazon hardware.

Room booking
Conference rooms are in high demand in any company. With a huge number of teams looking to collaborate at any given time, even small businesses can suffer from a lack of meeting spaces. Add last-minute huddles and meetings that run over their allotted time, and you have a conference room system strained by needs that aren't that demanding. Amazon is looking to solve the hassle of finding and booking conference rooms by getting Alexa involved.

All you have to do is link your calendar provider and read/write permission with Alexa to enable the Room Booking feature. There are a few different functions Alexa can help with. You can check the availability of a conference room you are in by asking, "Alexa, is this room free?" If it's free, you can immediately book the room. To find out who reserved a room, you can ask, "Alexa, who booked this room?" Amazon also provides a Room Booking API, so you can build out your room-booking experience to include creating reservations and finding available rooms.

Amazon has expanded Alexa for Business' conference room features. Users can control conference room settings, like dimming the lights, drawing the blinds and turning on the projector, with only a voice command. Alexa would have to work in conjunction with smart technology for this, like smart lights in the case of adjusting conference room lighting.

One of the marquee features of Alexa for Business is Alexa's ability to start videoconferences through voice command. Alexa is able to sync with a corporate calendar, so you don't even need a meeting ID or conference call number to set up your conferences. Simply say, "Alexa, start the meeting," and Alexa will turn on the videoconferencing equipment and join the respective meeting. This could be a convenient feature. It also eliminates time fiddling with equipment while you set up your meeting.

Alexa for Business console
This dashboard is the command center for your company's entire Alexa for Business experience. Here you can manage users or devices, add or remove skills on devices, manage videoconferencing options, invite new users, manage corporate calendars, and view shared devices. Amazon also provides detailed steps on its website to view and use these features.

Another way to manage Alexa for Business using the dashboard is to view the room profiles. You can assign a room to each shared device, marking its location and place in your office's ecosystem. Skill groups can then be added or removed from devices based on what room they are in. You can also enable custom skills for each user on each device, giving you control over who has access to which skills.

Amazon provides different skills and integrations with third-party apps to make your business run more efficiently, but you can also build your own skills and use Alexa for Business APIs. Once integrated with Alexa, these skills can be kept private for internal business use.

Overall, this dashboard will help you set up and implement this system for your business. The center is organized in an intuitive way so that it's easy to manage and adjust settings as your business's use of Alexa changes.

Private Alexa skills
The great thing about Alexa for Business is its open API feature. Amazon enables developers to create whatever Alexa skills a business needs. This means Alexa for Business' applications for your company are endless. Creating a skill isn't difficult, but it's probably best if someone with development experience handles it.

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