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Amazon opens Alexa for Business to third-party devices
Amazon's AI voice assistant platform for enterprises, Alexa for Business, is now compatible with third-party devices from vendors including Polycom.
Amazon Web Services will let companies deploy Alexa for Business on third-party devices from partners including Plantronics and BlackBerry, as the vendor looks to boost adoption of its AI voice assistant service one year after launch.
The third-party partnerships should make it easier for enterprises to adopt Amazon's AI voice assistant by letting them use hardware they already own, such as Polycom Trio conference room phones. Previously, the service ran only on Amazon Echo devices.
Alexa for Business syncs with a company's email, calendar and business apps so that its employees can perform basic tasks with their voice. For example, a worker could command an Alexa-enabled device in a conference room to start an online meeting.
Amazon has partnered with Plantronics (which owns Polycom), iHome, BlackBerry, Linkplay and Extron to make devices with those vendors compatible with the Alexa Voice Service SDK. Businesses will be able to manage Echo devices and the third-party phones and speakers from the same interface.
Amazon faces competition from UC vendors Microsoft and Cisco, which have added AI voice assistants to the collaboration apps Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex. Amazon is also always battling with Google and Apple, which have invested heavily in AI voice assistants for the consumer market.
Earlier this year, Amazon and Microsoft announced they had integrated the consumer version of Alexa with Microsoft Cortana for some basic commands. However, the partnership appears initially targeted at consumers, given that it excluded Alexa for Business.
Many enterprises have concerns about the security of AI voice assistants, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill. IT administrators want to know where the voice data is being processed and stored, and some are worried the devices may be passively listening to confidential conversations.
"We've found virtual voice assistants to be of interest, but not something that enterprises are putting a lot of effort into researching right now," Lazar said.
Amazon gradually builds out Alexa for Business features
Amazon also announced this week that it was adding several significant features to the AI voice assistant platform.
The service will now help workers find free time in their schedule. For example, a worker could ask, "When do I have 45 minutes free on Thursday?" And the AI voice assistant would generate a list of possibilities.
Alexa for Business will also let workers create morning greetings. The phrase "Alexa, good morning" -- or something similar -- will trigger a customizable set of responses, such as the weather forecast, traffic reports or upcoming calendar events.
Meanwhile, Amazon is partnering with a small handful of companies -- including Kayak, the National Hockey League and TV Guide -- to roll out an API for setting reminders about important events. For example, the Kayak feature could automatically remind users of an upcoming flight.
Beyond the service's built-in features, Amazon has also given businesses toolkits for creating custom apps for internal use.