Amazon launches Alexa for Business platform, bringing voice services to the office

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Amazon is bringing its AI assistant to the workplace with a new service called Alexa for Business. The news was announced today by Amazon CTO Werner Vogels onstage during the keynote address at the AWS re:Invent being held this week in Las Vegas.

Alexa for Business will be able to place meeting calls with RingCentral, Cisco, Polycom, Zoom, and other communication companies that can respond when you say “Alexa, join my meeting.” The platform will also include Salesforce to answer questions about business performance, SAP SuccessFactors for HR, and other third-party voice services for the enterprise.

A series of features added to Alexa since launch make the AI assistant better equipped to enter the workplace today than it was this time last year, including the ability to make phone and video calls, and incorporate calendars from Office 365 and Google’s G Suite.

The expansion is also likely to put to use AI services announced Wednesday like AWS Transcribe, AWS Comprehend, and Recognition Video.

This isn’t Alexa’s first venture into the workplace. Existing skills like VoiceMyBot connect with HipChat and a smart light bulb to tell sales teams when they’re meeting or missing goals, while skills made by companies like Teem have used Alexa for scheduling office meeting since earlier this year. Still others have been able to use Alexa Voice Services to place the AI assistant inside hardware in the workplace.

The home has been Alexa’s central focus since the first black Echo speakers began to sell more than two years ago. A new generation of Echo speakers, for example, were debuted in a home setting this fall at Amazon headquarters.

Amazon joins a series of productivity and enterprise companies with plans to enter the battle to become the AI assistant for the workplace.

Cortana VP Andrew Shuman told VentureBeat Microsoft is working on enterprise skills and LinkedIn integrations, while Cisco wants to make Cisco Spark Assistant the AI assistant for meetings through hundreds of thousands of endpoints already in meeting rooms around the world.

It will be interesting to see if Amazon and Microsoft’s partnership to grant access to each other’s assistants will be extended to the workplace. Conversations about the partnership this summer centered around the idea that AI assistants will become known as especially good at certain tasks.

Amazon’s interest in enterprise comes as Alexa begins to expand beyond the U.S. to places like India, Japan, and soon Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Beyond the home, Amazon has also expressed interest in expansion to areas like hotels and retail locations, Alexa Fund director Paul Bernard told VentureBeat in an email interview earlier this week. Amazon plans to pour another $100 million into its venture capital arm for investment in startups using Alexa into their products.

Making AI assistants available everywhere you are — from the workplace to your home to your car — is part of ongoing competition between tech giants to showcase and sell their AI services, and facilitate commerce like shopping or in-skill payments.

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