Late in September, Amazon announced a wide range of new products powered by its increasingly ubiquitous Alexa voice-powered digital assistant. The announcement — which featured everything from Alexa-powered glasses to ear buds that will directly compete with Apple’s AirPods — was focused on the home space, where the company clearly hopes to further encroach.
However, Amazon’s Alexa products and services also set the stage for further moves into the enterprise space, where it and other voice-powered digital solutions using natural language processing could represent shifts in both operations within the enterprise and how businesses communicate with their customers.
“Both the announcement and initiatives targeting multivendor interoperability will drive even greater consumer adoption for voice-enabled intelligent devices of all kinds,” said Matt Smith, conversational AI practice leader for Cognizant Digital Business. For the enterprise, the announcement signals an accelerating convergence between consumer-facing internet of things (IoT) products and solutions enabled by conversational AI, Smith said.
“Even more pressure is now on enterprises, particularly those selling to and supporting consumers, to evolve their customer experience and brand differentiation strategies for these voice-enabled interfaces,” he said.
Part of that pressure comes from the increasing ubiquity of voice assistants — in particular Amazon’s Alexa, which the company has said it wants involved in every aspect of daily life.
“The more we encounter Alexa — or other virtual assistants — throughout our day, including in our homes, cars and the workplace, it reinforces for brand leaders, marketers and product designers the necessity of having a conversational AI element to their strategy,” Smith said.
Within the Enterprise
Amazon isn’t the only player in the voice-powered assistant game, though it is leading a market that barely existed a few years ago and has now placed 100 million Alexa-powered devices in American homes. This segment is expanding quickly, Smith said, and already includes virtual agents, smart speakers, intelligent connected products and wearables, among many other devices and software — from Amazon and competitors such as Google, Microsoft and Apple.
“As we continue to see their rise in popularity and usage in our everyday life, their importance in the workplace will also continue to rise and we’ll see the technology positively impact how we do our jobs,” Smith predicted.
A “halo effect” is possible, Smith said, between the outside consumer world and the traditional business environment, where conversational AI solutions like Alexa for Business will impact how we use and engage with workplace technology. There are already examples of this, he said, pointing to the use of voice-enabled technology to request data reports and analysis or to look up information, create and send messages, draft and share meeting notes, and manage daily work tasks like time reporting and meeting scheduling.
Natural language and voice-driven access and engagement will also become more prevalent in traditional enterprise systems such as contact center applications like CRM, and content management and business process management software, Smith said.
And Julia Ryzh, CMO of Just AI UK, pointed out that many Alexa-powered products that are home-based right now seem ripe for movement into the enterprise space. The possibilities are wide, Ryzh said, but could include smart offices with smart displays for video conferences and voice-enabled systems for managing lights, air-conditioning and kitchen appliances, therefore saving money and increasing efficiency.
“We will increasingly see the enterprise workforce less and less bound to the keyboard and desktop and more able to work in dynamic and collaborative settings,” Smith said.
David Lee, chief operating officer of Kastling Group, thinks the change will be less significant for now but that it could be particularly focused on areas in the enterprise where Alexa-like solutions represent an improvement on traditional input methods such as typing.
“While I don’t foresee a huge change to enterprises with this set of devices, I believe that the improvements from these devices can lead to huge changes in the enterprise space where manual input via typing was necessary and cumbersome,” Lee said.
From Enterprise to Customers
When it comes to outward-facing voice-powered solutions for the enterprise, it’s all part of meeting customers where they are, Smith said — conversational AI, whether it’s through Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana or other solutions, gives the enterprise new ways to get to those places.
Those places are likely to increase at the same time, Ryzh said. Part of the announcement included an increasingly personalized suite of Alexa-powered devices, Ryzh pointed out — for example, speakers in a variety of colors. It seems simple on the surface, but it’s likely part of Amazon’s play to make the products appeal to an even wider number of customers, she said.
“The more devices they sell, the more users they’ll get, the more business will start considering this communication channel,” Ryzh said. It will become increasingly important for businesses to be hooked into these tools, and as Alexa becomes increasingly wearable the tool will be increasingly (and literally) connected to their audience. For example, Alexa-powered glasses represent an opportunity for many industries: automotive, education, healthcare, she said.
“These advancements place even more importance on the necessity for enterprises to prioritize their digital commerce and customer care transformation to align with consumers expecting voice-enabled pathways to their brands of choice,” Smith said.
“The need for customer and operations intelligence across an enterprise’s sales channels, contact centers, marketing and promotional programs, supply chains and internal systems is only going to increase as consumers adopt Alexa into more and more of their daily activities and lifestyle,” Smith said.