Alexa for Business will let companies manage Echo devices used by their employees, an effort by Amazon to get its largely housebound voice-activated assistant into the workplace.
LAS VEGAS — Amazon’s Alexa is taking its talents to the office.
The voice-activated digital assistant, the resident of Amazon’s cylindrical Echo speakers, typically sits on kitchen counters or end tables in consumers’ homes and is used to add items to a shopping list, toggle the radio or tell jokes. Amazon on Thursday said it aimed to extend the software’s reach and capabilities to the workplace, offering businesses the ability to manage Echo devices, Alexa users and the applications they use.
Werner Vogels, the chief technology officer of Amazon Web Services, announced the program in a speech Thursday at the company’s re:Invent conference here. The way people interact with technology should be more natural, he said. “The first step in that is going to be voice.”
Boosters say voice could catch on as a more natural and intuitive way to interact with technology than learning how to manipulate a keyboard or mouse. Several companies are plugging away at the software to make that happen, including Google, Apple and Microsoft, whose Cortana digital assistant has a toehold in the workplace on personal computers running Windows 10.
Alexa’s foray into the office begins with a few applications. Vogels said the company hoped to get Echoes in use as a conference room hub, letting meeting participants start a conference call with a few words instead of a dial-in code. Amazon has also worked with companies like Cisco to make sure the devices work with major existing conferencing systems.
Companies can also build their own applications for Alexa, called skills in Amazon-speak.
Bellevue expense reporting firm Concur, a unit of SAP, is working on a tool to let business travelers ask a corporate Alexa device about an upcoming trip.
“We’re excited about the possibilities Alexa opens up,” said John Dietz, vice president of Concur Labs.
Other businesses have been experimenting with Alexa.
John Nichols, director of enterprise architecture at Pacific Gas & Electric, said in an interview before Alexa for Business was announced that his teams had built an experimental Alexa skill designed to track which employees had particular safety certifications. They couldn’t roll it out, though, concerned by the lack of a business option for managing the software.