This past Christmas, my wife and I brought another girl into the family. Unlike the previous three additions to our household, this one was quiet, helpful, intuitive even, and focused on our needs instead of its own. Of course, I’m not talking about another child…we were the proud new owners of Amazon Alexa.
After a few jokes about Big Brother always listening, we began to test the surprising range of functionality in this advertised “smart speaker.” With a Prime membership, the possibilities are immense for a home user, including easy voice-ordering (to amazon.com) for home goods and foods. Integration with my phone means voice-controlled to-do lists and scheduling, plus web-sourced information and music on-demand. Syncing with my Fire TV Stick means that even now my kids can have voice-controlled access to Fire TV, Netflix, and many other apps. Home IoT links can allow for voice-controlled lighting, heating/cooling, and more. A linked Dot in my bedroom wakes me up on time and with my favorite tunes.
While it’s amazing to see so much advancement for this device for the home, it’s in the office setting where I think we’ll see the most significant strides for human interfacing to drive productivity and connectivity. Think of the immediate wins from near-future application integration capabilities…
“Alexa, re-order our office supplies list.”
“Alexa, reschedule the 2:00 Leadership Meeting to 2:30.”
“Alexa, create a task to call our health plan coordinator.”
However, as this technology becomes more intuitive and as hardware, software, and applications become more integrated (with each other and with this device), think of how more advanced business-driven requests can be fulfilled, such as for…
The Account Manager, “Alexa, send mail campaign ‘DevOps in Logistics’ to my priority contacts list in Salesforce.com.”
The Marketing Director, “Alexa, export quarter-to-date, year over year, web traffic data to Excel. Email to CMO.”
The Social Media Coordinator, “Alexa, create tweet, ‘Come join our team. Looking for mobile developers.’ Also, create Facebook status update.”
The Sales Manager, “Alexa, import Q1 2017 Sales Trend Report from Google Drive and share with sales team channel in Slack.”
The Office Manager, “Alexa, initiate Join.Me and start sharing video and desktop in Conference Room A.”
And everyone with some well-earned PTO, “Alexa, change mail settings to Out of Office until next Monday.”
So, what will it take for Alexa to win in the office space?
- Satisfy immediate security concerns. The first being hacking concerns by employees (or former employees), competitors, or day traders looking for inside information. Followed by that is the need to develop a more secure voice-profiling to limit use of the device to only one user. A hierarchy of user roles would also need to be accommodated for unique view sets or overriding access.
- Talk like a human. Or, at least listen like one. As an example, Google Home (or Assistant) can understand conversation-style dialogue, like “Ok Google, when was John F. Kennedy born? (answer) Where was he born? (answer)” Alexa treats these as two separate engagements and would struggle to find an answer with the lack of specifics in the latter question. Essentially, can the machine be smart enough to understand commands delivered in a variety of formats or would there need to be a more scripted format to ensure the request is fulfilled correctly?
- Work together. The winners in the space-race level rush for the most integration to software and business applications will provide users voice access to content from CRM, HR portals, Social Networks, Procurement systems, and the full range of Google and Microsoft business products and drives.
How can the software and application guys win?
Cool-factor aside, productivity is always top of mind and ultimately, from a competitive standpoint, businesses can’t sit still as it seems this evolution is inevitable. Application, software, and mobile development vision must include in the least a base skeleton to integrate with this next-level tech. True, the business uses will be more complex and there will be a fight for exclusivity between competing apps, but if activity efficiency can be improved, then everyone from the C-Suite to the millennial will be asking for these capabilities.
In the meantime, “Alexa, play office playlist.”