This week sees Amazon take Alexa into the workplace. There may be opportunity but is it the right time? I also look at Google and how its responding.
Home is where the tech is.
How we interact with technology is also changing. For just over a decade now, the mainstream audience has been interfacing with technology beyond their fingertips thanks to the launch of the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect.
In the past these technologies would have built its foundations in the workplace before moving to the home. But today, the home is often where more advanced technology lives rather than the workplace. This, in turn, has led to a rise in people using your own devices in the workplace.
Smart assistants have also started from the home but Alexa, Amazon’s smart assistant is not exactly portable and whilst it has taken off in the home in a relatively short period of time, usage in the workplace has been limited.
There is no doubt all the major players competing in this space see its potential to completely change again how we interface with technology. Alexa stops you being glued to a screen and instead has you asking a question out loud.
It feels more natural.
All this competition stokes innovation and Amazon clearly sees an opportunity to stake its claim on the workplace, this week announcing Alexa for Business.
They have announced connections into email (Exchange/Outlook), CRM (Salesforce) and HR (Concur).
This is the first baby steps and they need to figure out how to deal better with much more ambient noise in today’s open plan offices.
Even at home, Alexa struggles to hear when there are other noises present.
The bigger issue is the device itself. With powerful computers already present, what is the need for an Alexa box on every desk?
Amazon need to release PC and Mac versions to really make headway otherwise I can see it being limited to meeting rooms, where you can ask it to contact somebody, turn on/off the lights, project a laptop screen or possibly save a note.
With the exception of projecting a laptop screen, which is still more fiddly than it should be, the rest is hardly compelling. Oh and Alexa can’t actually do that just yet anyhow.
More useful, would be to be able to answer questions about projects underway in meetings, which will come as more integrations are built.
But I think the real power will be at your desk to analyse data or get small tasks done quickly. Assuming, the ambient noise issue can be resolved.
I guess Amazon needs to release some airpods ?.
On the desktop, Siri and Cortana should really be ahead. But apart from having a huge existing user base due to being pre-installed on Windows and MacOS, in reality their capabilities are poor today. Under investment and poor usability so far and little noise to suggest that is going to change anytime soon.
The elephant in the room is Google. If they integrated Google Assistant into the browser, that would make quick headway into the workplace. They have lagged behind Amazon when it comes to partnerships, which is going to be critical to success.
First they are getting their house in order. Google is restructuring its hardware back under one roof.
A few years ago it decided to keep Nest, which makes smart home devices as a separate business but has now changed its mind.
Given the overlap between the two divisions this is hardly surprising. In addition to creating efficiencies it should also allow it to better compete with Alexa.
I’d expect to see Nest devices with built in Google Assistant at some point soon, giving them another way into the home. Nest has been slow in updating its hardware in recent years so soon may be a little longer than they would hope.
Time will tell. Meanwhile, the competition is not sitting still.