AWS – Exploring the use of Alexa for Business

Alexa for Business allows you to integrate voice recognition devices, such as the Amazon Echo, into your corporate office environment in many creative ways. As someone who has experienced this personally, I can tell you that walking into a conference room, saying “Alexa, start my meeting,” and watching the video conferencing equipment turn on and automatically configure itself is a real joy. It’s a huge improvement over the usual 5-10 minutes of wasted time at the beginning of every meeting spent troubleshooting the conference phone or the camera on top of the TV. Alexa for Business integrates with your calendaring system, conferencing software such as Chime, and the hardware that sits in the conference room, turning what was once a hassle into a quick, intuitive interaction.

The capabilities of Alexa for Business go beyond just configuring A/V equipment. Custom skills can be developed to interact with just about any business system, such as your customer relationship manager (CRM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) tool. Employees can configure their personal Alexa Voice System (AVS) devices at home to interact with the work environment, to enable scenarios such as checking their schedule for the day.

How to do it…

In this recipe, you have to execute the following:

  1. Log in to your AWS account and go to the Alexa for Business dashboard.
  2. Click the Get Started button.
  3. You might be presented with a survey, which you can skip.
  1. Scroll down on the left-hand menu and select User Invitations. Edit the template to add your company name and contact email and save it:

Alexa User invitations
  1. Choose Users from the left-hand menu and then click Invite user.
  2. Send yourself an invite so that you can see the email that will be received by your users.
  1. The email redirects to a web page where your users will be invited to join Alexa for Business with their personal Amazon account (or the account where they have their Echo device registered):

Join Alexa for Business
  1. If you have an AVS device, go ahead and link your accounts.
  2. Once you have finished enrollment, you can see the user Enrolled in the Alexa user console, as shown in the following screenshot:

Alexa Users
  1. Select Rooms from the left-hand menu to configure rooms at your office location.
  2. Click Create room.
  3. Configure a unique conference room name, a profile name, an address, and device settings.
  4. Click Next. If you have a device to add to a room, configure it here.
  5. On the next screen, add any skill groups that you want available to this room. Skill groups are groups of Alexa skills that are either public, coming from the Marketplace, or private skills that are available for your company.
  6. Click Create roo m, as shown in the following screenshot: 

Alexa Rooms
  1. Take some time to explore the other configuration options in the left-hand menu. They are very specific to your AVS devices, conference room equipment, and calendaring system, so we won’t cover them in detail here.

At this point, you should have a basic understanding of how to set up Alexa for your office.

How it works…

AVS devices interact with the voice recognition services provided by Amazon in the cloud to interpret user requests and then take actions based on the settings you have configured for your office. One important thing to understand about how Alexa works is that the device itself actually has very little in the way of voice recognition and analysis capability built into it. The onboard software really only knows how to listen to the wake word—Alexa, Amazon, Echo, or Computer, depending on which word you have configured. Everything else happens in the cloud. When the device recognizes the wake word, the blue light on the top of the device starts spinning (depending on your device model), which means your voice is now being transmitted to Amazon’s servers.

Amazon solved a remarkably difficult problem when it enabled reliable voice recognition from a device that may be on the other side of a room with lots of noisy distractions, and now that functionality can be used to enhance your office experience.

There’s more…

Alexa for Business can integrate with the following popular conferencing systems:

  • Cisco TelePresence
  • Zoom Rooms
  • Polycom

Alexa for Business blueprints can be used to jump-start the development of your own private skills. These skills could integrate directly with a private corporate database to provide your employees with a natural voice interaction for business-critical applications. You could build an FAQ skill that answers common questions asked by employees, or shares the latest company news, or use a skill to train new employees by quizzing them on important company knowledge. 

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