Alexa, the assistant that became insanely popular in the consumer world running on Amazon Echo devices, now has her resume polished and is interviewing to work for companies like yours. Alexa is promising to help employees at their desks, to simplify conference rooms, to help people around the workplace, and to add voice to your products and services.
Amazon has beaten out Microsoft in early rounds of the battle of artificial assistants at work. Amazon has launched Alexa for Business while Cortana currently has only eight apps listed in the Microsoft store – and advanced skills still in insider preview. At the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in January, every major PC manufacturer announced support for Alexa on their Windows 10 devices.
It’s obvious why technology companies are considering implementing Alexa for Business. It’s a cool, AI feature that has matured in the consumer setting – in its 2017 Q4 earnings release, Amazon reported that there are over 30,000 Alexa skills. It’s less obvious how disruptive Alexa might become in your workplace.
The go-to use case is to simplify meetings. Where people waste five minutes setting up the meeting, Alexa can shorten that time. Approach these claims skeptically. In order to achieve these benefits, you must:
Every time a worker struggles to work with Alexa – which will happen a lot without training – is an argument against using Alexa. Workers will easily waste five minutes trying to fiddle with Alexa, and you’re no better off then than you are now.
The idea is great in theory: instead of having to navigate a wide variety of conference room setups, workers can simply say “Alexa, start my meeting.” Instead of figuring out which adapter to use, and running back to your desk because you forgot to bring your HDMI-to-HDMI Mini dongle, you can say one command. Time saved? Fifteen minutes.
But, if you standardize your meeting rooms, then employees won’t need to waste time trying to figure out how to get the equipment set up. They set it up the way that they would set it up in any other meeting room. And, if you simplify the setup while you standardize, then your employees won’t need to run back to their desks to retrieve forgotten dongles. You’ll also have less service desk calls from people who can’t set something up or who need an admin password to install the screen-casting software.
IT will have to routinely test integrations between Alexa and your third-party conference room equipment, as well as with your audio/visual conferencing software. Every time there’s an update, you should test to make sure that everything is still working as expected.
IT needs to routinely engage users. Not only do you need to train users on new Alexa skills, but you also need to train users on existing Alexa skills. Users forget things, and you don’t want them to forget how to interact with Alexa.
I’m not writing to dissuade you from implementing Alexa for Business. I’m persuading you to understand the true costs of Alexa. Alexa for Business can improve people’s lives, and Alexa can simplify meetings. However, you need to do some upfront work.
If you don’t take the time to gather requirements, test, and train, then Alexa for Business is going to waste everyone’s time. Make the most out of your investment in Alexa, and implement it properly.
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