Amazon Targets Businesses With Voice Activated Digital Assistants

Amazon with its best-selling digital voice assistant now has its sights set on a role for Alexa in the workplace with its plans to launch Alexa for Business.

Amazon Dominant

Amazon’s Echo dominates the voice-assistant market with a more than 70% share. 11 million Alexa devices have already been sold and last Christmas, Alexa-enabled devices emerged as the top-selling product across all categories on Amazon.com. Amazon Echo’s AI powered home voice-activated digital assistant looks set to be a popular present again this year.

Awareness and use of voice-controlled speakers is soaring, and in the US for example, an estimated 35.6 million people used one at least once a month in 2017, a 128.9% increase on the previous year (eMarketer).

Natural Progression – Into The Workplace

It is no surprise, therefore, that Amazon would want to move its digital assistant smart speaker into the workplace. With this in mind, Amazon has announced plans to release an enterprise-focused version called Alexa for Business.

Doing What?

For many home-based / small businesses, having an Amazon Echo around as part of the day’s organising / calendar scheduling and basic entertainment and information functions is becoming an increasingly common thing.

Tech commentators have noted that voice-activated digital assistants such as Amazon Echo are suited to workplace roles and specific tasks such as facilitating and activating conference calls, booking meeting rooms, reporting IT issues, providing directions around a building, answering questions about the business or even ordering new office supplies.

It is anticipated that the new Alexa for Business could be used by employees on their own personal devices to make calls, manage calendars, run to-do lists, set reminders, and to locate information stored in third-party corporate applications e.g. Salesforce, Concur or Splunk, and Microsoft Exchange. Business users could also pair their private accounts with their organisation’s Alexa for Business account.

Security and Privacy Fears

One of the potential challenges to introducing digital assistants to the workplace is the widely publicised security and privacy fears. Security commentators have pointed to the fact that Amazon Echos are always listening, and while they don’t ordinarily collect information until activated with the “Alexa” wake word, it can happen by accident, and Amazon stores recordings to make its cloud-based AI service more ‘intelligent’. This also represents a security threat.

Also, back in August for example, UK security expert Mark Barnes made the news by saying that anyone could install malware on an Amazon Echo, along with his proof-of-concept code that would silently stream audio from the device to a remote server. This would enable a criminal to listen-in on private conversations and private / personal information that could be used to e.g. steal money, steal business secrets, or burgle premises. This kind of vulnerability could also lead to the disclosure of personal details of customers or employees which could jeopardise data security compliance, and expose a company to the risk of fines or blackmail.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Voice activated, AI-based digital assistants appear to be very well suited to many organisational and instant information-dispensing tasks that could make them very useful in the modern workplace to help boost employee productivity, improve efficiency, and to perform some very specialised tasks. It was almost an inevitability that the next step for them would be the workplace, and Amazon’s dominance in the market also made it inevitable that it would want to be first in with a business-focused offering.

Amazon and other voice-activated digital assistant companies (Microsoft, Google and Apple) will, however, need to convince businesses that the devices are secure and that they don’t represent the same IoT security threat that they’ve been reading and hearing about.

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