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Voice Assistants Becoming a Business Tool

Carl Weinschenk

The smartphone started as a consumer device and gradually worked its way into the enterprise through informal use. It was gradually adopted either as bring your own device (BYOD) or through the use of company-owned phones. The same migration is happening for voice assistants such as Google Assistant, Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Cisco's Spark.

Alexa for Business was introduced by Amazon Web Services last month. The goal is to relieve humans of tedious, repetitive and rudimentary tasks such as checking calendars and reordering supplies, according to Computerworld.

Alexa for Business will enable companies to build specific applications atop those that already exist for the consumer version of the platform. Examples: Capital One has given Alexa for Business the ability to report on "the status of corporate systems and receive updates on high-severity incidents" and WeWork enables Amazon Echo devices spread through its offices to do several menial tasks.

Siri is a very useful tool and Business News Daily points out that improvements in iOS 11 and MacOS High Sierra are enabling more ubiquitous use of Siri on a wide variety of Apple devices. It even has "natural-sounding male and female voices with regional variations."


The story, which seems aimed at small business users, identifies some uses: Keeping current with the high volume of web listings in which the company wants to be represented; help in physically opening and closing shops each day (through HomeKit); banking and payment tasks; translation services; reminders; calendaring and a host of others. Some are quite small. The point, though, is that they add up to considerable time and effort.

Two other key players in the business-grade voice assistant sector are Cisco's Spark and Microsoft's Cortana. As usually happens with promising ideas, entrepreneurial efforts are emerging. Roxy is a startup in Seattle that offers a voice assistant and touchscreen smart speaker to the hotel industry. Hotel Management says that it has raised $2.2 million in a seed round. It is slightly different from other business initiatives because the target audience is guests. Thus, it more or less straddles the line between consumer and business uses.

The line between consumer and business tools is gone forever. The migration of voice assistants to the enterprise and business is a replay of the BYOD trek, the first (along with Wi-Fi) of two big technological introductions that set the stage for the barriers to fall.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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