Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.
 

Amazon's Alexa May be the Next Essential Business Tool

Amazon's Alexa May be the Next Essential Business Tool
By

Credit: Derek WalterCredit: Derek WalterThe Amazon Alexa smart assistant, which is built into the company's hardware, has earned a place in the living room and kitchen of many homes. The digital AI is a convenient way to get the weather, add an item to your to-do list, or to listen to an audiobook with a simple voice command. You can wake this virtual assistant by saying Alexa, Amazon or Computer, depending on your settings.

You'll currently find Alexa in the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, Amazon Tap, Fire TV and in Fire tablets. You may not think of an Alexa as a desk-side companion at the workplace, but FinancialForce thinks it very well could be. The company has crafted together a solution that allows you to potentially power through many daily, laborious tasks with just a few voice commands.

MORE: 20 Best Amazon Alexa Skills

Hands-on Impressions

The project is the work of Chief Technology Officer Andy Fawcett, who dove into Alexa and Salesforce APIs to create the solution. I was able to get a hands-on of the Alexa in action recently, trying out a few voice commands and observing how the software integrated with Salesforce tools.

He told Alexa to make a vacation request, read some business-related news headlines and get the status update on some paperwork that has been previously submitted. The overall concept was that one could more easily automate their workflow by turning tasks that require lots of steps into simple voice actions.

Fawcett says that the rise of voice-controlled interfaces and assistants, from Siri and Corta to Google Home, coupled with the growth of Internet of Things devices such as Amazon's Echo have businesses falling over themselves to come up with use cases.

"The potential for businesses of any size to have a digital assistant that can immediately find and report crucial information, as well as slicing and dicing the data according to user commands is incredibly exciting," said Fawcett. "Bringing Salesforce and FinancialForce to Amazon Echo makes interacting with complex business software as easy as chatting with your neighbor, partly because all data is pulled from one single source of truth."

How much of this will be used will depend upon the specific business setting. When I was able to try out the Alexa as part of a hands-on demonstration, I found the responses to be rapid and succinct. Alexa did have a few problems hearing me with certain commands, though we were in a crowded restaurant that had been reserved specifically for other Dreamforce demos.

FinancialForce meets the Amazon Echo: Company News Briefing and Adding Project Chatter Post

Voice Commands

Fawcett says that voice commands can reduce inefficiencies, speed up the decision-making process, and improve workflows, and that may be true. The company's blog lists numerous types of actions that can create a project, call forth data or query the status of an existing report.

Here's one example:
User: "Alexa, ask FinancialForce to add project comment."
Echo:  "Tell me the project name for your comment."
User:   "Project name is greentech pilot."
Echo:  "What is the comment you wish to add?"
User: "Great job team."
Echo:  "Your comment has been added to the chatter feed of the Greentech pilot project"

Many of the features that FinancialForce built were inspired by the consumer-friendly uses of Alexa. For example, Fawcett said the company developed a "FinancialForce News" flow that pulls together live data from CRM and ERP projects. It spits out information like updates, status reports and sales invoices in a live briefing that can be tailored right to one's company.

MORE: How to Create an Alexa Skill for Business

What's Next?

Fawcett said the project is still a prototype, with additional work needed before wider deployment could be made. But he said the development platform allows him to iterate rapidly and should result in forthcoming changes soon.

"The prototype skills we have open sourced allows commands to be quickly built and gives us a glimpse at how the potential for voice recognition, bots and artificial intelligence in ERP and enterprise software is truly unending," he said. "Imagine having an Alexa ERP assistant pull up and present data on the fly during a presentation, or having Alexa proactively alert you to things that require urgent attention — cutting through the noise of cluttered inboxes and the glut of daily push notifications. We cannot wait to see where creative applications of this technology will take us, and how it will ultimately change the way we work."

Fawcett said this could be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how voice-powered assistants like Alexa are used in a business setting. If Amazon were to embrace this type of work it could have a considerable edge given how popular its Amazon Web Services platform is, which powers the cloud for many enterprise customers. 

It can also be a tool for savings. For those with an Amazon Prime account, you can get Alexa-exclusive deals through voice shopping on Prime Day. The annual sales day starts on June 10, 2017 at 6 p.m. PST and goes for 30 hours, with new deals being offered every 5 minutes.