Alexa’s growing skills show potential for voice assistants in the workplace

Amazon announced last week that Alexa, the voice assistant software that powers home hardware units such as Echo, Dot and Tap, now has 10,000 “skills” to offer humans seeking information, instructions or entertainment.

Not everyone is impressed.

Gizmodo’s Michael Nunez dismisses Alexa’s “10,000 mostly useless skills,” lamenting that “you can’t really complete any important tasks with the Echo. Anything that requires attention to detail is impossible to do.”

He’s probably right — at least for now.

Amazon opened up Alexa to third-party developers about 18 months ago. This fueled crazy growth in the number of available skills, from 1,000 in June 2016 to 3,000 in September and 7,000 just last month.

But, as always, technology improves over time. Compare the number of genuinely useful mobile apps today with what was available in 2008. It’s a different world.

That’s also going to happen with digital voice assistants. Currently third-party developers are throwing apps at the Alexa wall to see what sticks. However, at some point, the learning curve will kick in, and Alexa’s wall will be filed with useful apps.

Many of these apps eventually will find homes in the enterprise as employees discover voice assistants are useful for getting things done and finding things out.

Without getting into how the following apps work (because I simply don’t know), here are some of the voice-activated “skills” Alexa currently offers that could be useful to enterprise workers either in the office or at home:

  • A router reset wizard that helps you get your wireless connection working
  • An app that opens your latest email and searches for emails over a defined period
  • Daily management tips from Harvard Business Review
  • An app that will check your check phone messages, send and receive texts, and make calls
  • A “butler” that reminds you where you’ve put items so they don’t get misplaced or lost

Make no mistake, Alexa has far too many inspirational quote and motivational “skills” cluttering its store, but the good stuff will start coming out when developers focus on more high-value and complex tasks and commands.

Does your enterprise plan to support virtual assistants for its employees?


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