Voice Is Here – Do You Have An Alexa Skill For Your Business?

alexa skill developer

Alexa is a voice-driven personal assistant which was developed by Amazon in 2014. It was initially used with Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers, although an Amazon mobile app now allows Alexa to function on mobile devices with the Android or iOS operating systems.

Alexa primarily provides audio services such as music playback, audiobooks, podcasts, and alarms, and it can also obtain real-time information from the internet such as weather and traffic reports.

Users can configure Alexa to control other smart devices, allowing it to be used as a home automation system. Businesses are also starting to use Alexa to provide various services to their customers.

What Skills Does Alexa Have?

The Alexa Skills Kit allows developers to develop and publish their own built-in capabilities, known as Skills, for Alexa. Many tutorials are also available for teaching developers to add voice capability to their Alexa applications.

Users can download these Alexa Skills at no charge with the Alexa app, and they can also use Amazon’s Smart Home Skill API to control other smart devices by voice. Device manufacturers can build voice capability into their products with Alexa Voice Service (AVS), which provides users with Alexa APIs through a cloud-based service.

Amazon doesn’t currently charge a usage fee for using AVS, but that could change once the practice becomes popular enough. AVS also offers capabilities such as automatic speech recognition (ASR) and natural language understanding (NLU).

General Alexa Skills Applications

Alexa’s companion app is available from the major app stores, including the Amazon Appstore, Apple App Store, and Google Play. This app allows users to install Skills on Alexa that perform functions such as controlling music, managing alarms and viewing information from the internet.

Users can configure Alexis-compatible devices such as Amazon Dot, Amazon Echo, and Amazon Echo Show via a web interface. The companion app also lets users view the text recognized by Alexa and provide Amazon with feedback on the Alexa’s recognition capability.

The Alexa Appstore had 1,000 Skills available for download by June 2016, and that figure increased to over 5,000 by November of that year.

General applications for Alexa include weather reports from AccuWeather and news from TuneIn, which obtains news from legitimate sources such as ESPN, NPR, and local radio stations.

Alexa allows mobile devices such as a phone or tablet to stream music from Apple Music and Google Play Music. Supported devices can stream music from the user’s Amazon Music account, and they also have built-in support for Pandora and Spotify music accounts.

Other popular voice-controlled applications include answering questions about the user’s Google Calendar, creating to-do lists and accessing websites.

Business Applications For Alexa Skills

Amazon partnered with Microsoft in 2017 to make Alexa available from Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant. This partnership was possible because Amazon has primarily aimed Alexa towards home users with Amazon Echo and third-party devices.

However, moving Alexa into the workplace will place these two virtual assistants in direct competition with each other.

One of the first signs that Amazon plans to target business users is the release of Alexa for Business in late 2017. This subscription service for businesses allows Alexa users to perform business functions such as scheduling virtual meeting rooms and conducting conference calls.

Users can already take advantage of custom Alexa Skills developed by third-party vendors. Major vendors such as Microsoft, Salesforce, and SAP have developed Alexa Skills for business users.

Businesses are also experimenting with using Alexa in an enterprise setting. Acumatica, a provider of cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, demonstrated a warehouse implementation of Alexis to Amazon in 2017.

The primary challenges of this implementation included a lack of authentication to determine the speaker’s identity, which is needed to grant access based on the speaker’s permissions.

An Amazon spokesperson noted that Alexa isn’t ready for enterprises yet, but it’s always thrilled to see developers pushing the boundaries of Alexis’ capabilities.

Future Use Of Alexa For Business

Implementing any mobile app requires a business to carefully consider the digital experience it wants to provide to their customers, especially if it’s a voice app. It takes a strategic approach to implement an app that will add business value instead of alienating customers with a different experience.

The investment needed to invest in voice technology is safe since Amazon currently controls the great majority of this market. Furthermore, it’s likely to retain this lead for the foreseeable future, so Alexa won’t become obsolete any time soon.

Furthermore, using Alexa Skills exclusively will also simplify the development of voice apps from both the technological and marketing standpoints, since you won’t need to initially support multiple platforms at the same time. Once voice apps have fully matured on Alexa, they can be ported over to competing products such as Cortana, Google Assistant, and Siri as required by market demands.

Amazon currently has a strong incentive to promote the development of Alexa Skills by third parties. It should continue to provide strong customer support for Skills developers, at least until the market matures.

At this time, users generally won’t expect businesses to have fully mature Skills, although their expectations for Alexa’s features and functionality will increase as voice technology continues to develop.

Getting Started With Alexa Skills

Businesses should begin using Alexa now, regardless of their industry or customer base. People will begin expecting this technology from businesses in the near future, and those that make this paradigm first will become its innovators.

They will be able to seize market share from businesses that are slower to adopt voice capabilities and define the course of this technology.

The newness of Alexa Skills provides businesses with many opportunities to use voice applications, especially for the purpose of providing customers with an interactive experience unique to each business.

These Skills allow customers to obtain information about the company or its products by directly asking Alexa questions. They can also use voice-enabled services to update their mobile apps and place orders.

Want more information? Call our development experts at (804)292-2137 or email [email protected] to learn more.

Not All Apps Are Games & Marketing

 

Mobile Application Uses

When you consider the use of smartphones in your company, it’s easy to see how you’d view them as a business tool first, but also as a potential instrument of distraction that can be a drag on productivity in your organization.

At the same time, you and your fellow stakeholders have heard that there are some benefits when it comes to the internal use of business apps in the enterprise environment.

Business Apps For Efficiency, Communication & Collaboration

Rather than merely being used for games and marketing tools, apps have a place in the business environment to improve efficiency and foster more communication and collaboration among your employees.

Before you start brainstorming about what needs to be included in your own app, here are some options to consider:

App Integration with Business Software You Already Use

Your first consideration should be how the new app will work with the business software already in place. Standard office suites including a word processor, spreadsheet, email and presentation software should connect seamlessly with the app.

But it should also integrate with your CRM application as well as software being used in the human resources department.

For best results, ask IT and other department managers to report on what software they consider essential to daily operations. Then, you’ll have the details to make a case for inclusion or not when you determine what internal software should integrate with the app you wind up developing.

Company Issued Smartphones and “BYOD” Policies

The use of smartphone apps in the enterprise environment has increased in recent years, noted in a recent report from CIO, which described an emerging trend of Bring Your Own Device or BYOD activity.

The smartphones may be company-issued equipment or personal devices owned completely by the workers.

In either case, if workers are using these devices to access proprietary data, you’ll want to issue guidelines to protect your confidential information as well as intellectual property. Best practices will call for your company to build an app that includes the latest in encryption and other security measures.

You can include a customized dashboard in your app that will be cross-platform. That way, it won’t matter if some workers carry iPhones while others rely on Android models. The app will appear and function the same on either type of device.

Supporting Employees While They’re on the Road

Think of all the workers who leave your premises to go out on sales calls, attend trade shows or make presentations to investors. You may want to give them access to the same tools as those used by employees who remain at headquarters. You may also want to support local employees who work from home or even members of the team who participate from disparate locations.

A customized app that you create for your employees can help them do their jobs more easily. For example, “If one of your salespeople is at a conference, and he or she starts networking and picking up new potential leads, how do the details of these leads make it back to your internal database?”

That’s a question posed by a report from TechCo, which described the traditional way of taking care of this problem would be to take local notes out in the field, only to type them into the system once they get back to the office.

That’s a tremendous waste of time. No workers should ever have to enter the same information twice. Instead, a company app will let them enter this information directly into the CRM remotely.

It will be much more efficient for salespeople to update leads in real time, while the details of the encounters are still fresh in their minds.

Cloud Computing Integration

Keep in mind that your employees’ smartphones will have limited storage capacity. What’s more, it would be foolish to rely solely on their internal memory to keep crucial files that your company uses day-in and day-out. With that in mind, you will want to make sure that the new app you develop will have the ability to integrate with cloud computing.

For example, let’s say an employee has notes about a new customer to enter into the CRM. Being able to do this while in a remote location instead of waiting to get back to the office will do wonders for your efficiency.

Another common situation involves digital contracts that headquarters want to see ASAP. When everyone in the enterprise can save files to the cloud, you have an easy path to maintain backups of crucial data.

Do you frequently send workers out into the world to put on demonstrations for interested buyers or members of the media? An app’s access to the cloud can provide access to files that might normally be too large to store on employee devices.

You also don’t need to make low-resolution versions of photos and videos for use on a smartphone. Accessing these demo files wirelessly will be a snap when you serve them from your cloud computing services provider.

What’s more, with a cloud computing feature, you can resume operations quickly even if data is inaccessible locally because of server issues in your own data center.

Collaboration and Communication

It’s common for people to think of mobile apps only as customer-facing, often with some aspect of marketing and lead generation built into the software. Or, the apps are designed for entertainment and distraction. But your new app can be a tool that promotes communication and enables members of the team to work more effectively together.

You’ll want to ensure that the app lets employees access all the same files from the central server. The files will be updated, so workers won’t be concerned that they are looking at obsolete information.

Include communication channels in your new app, such as text messaging and audio or video conferencing. Employees can even meet virtually without the need to book time in a conference room. Social media and email integration can further strengthen employee communication via the app.

No Need to Rely on Off-the-shelf Apps

The demand for enterprise smartphone apps will increase to five times the demand for development resources, according to CIO. This highlights the need to begin development with a solid strategy. “Part of that strategy should include getting stakeholders on board, defining the ROI and clearly illustrating who the app will help, and why.”

Furthermore, you’ll need a “go-to-market” strategy to promote the enterprise app internally, seeking feedback and otherwise encouraging engagement with employees.

It’s easy to see how relying on off-the-shelf apps may not be the best approach for your company. However, if you lack the internal resources to develop an app on your own and see no clear path to hiring experienced developers to join your effort, you can always partner with experts. It is probably more cost-effective than you’d think…

Interested in a mobile app for your organization? Read our resource about “The Hidden Costs Of Building Mobile Apps” to continue learning. Or, give us a call at 804-451-6016 with questions.