Amazon’s Alexa is a smart home assistant that’s helping consumers control their homes, employees control their schedules and brands manage their conference rooms. Heck, it’s even helping colleges offer their students dining and calendar information.
And yet, in 2018, we want to see developers pushing the limits even further with Alexa for business, as well as Alexa for the everyday consumer.
Before we dive into the five Alexa Skills we want to see in 2018, let’s first recap on the definition of an Alexa Skill.
You can think of an Alexa Skill as an app, but for the Amazon Echo. Outside of the Echo’s core functionality, developers are free to use the toolkits laid out by Amazon to build their own ‘Skills’ for Echo users to download and enjoy directly from their Amazon Echo device.
An Alexa Skill could be a game, a productivity tool or a news briefing that gets refreshed every day.
Through Alexa for Business, Alexa Skills have also transformed how businesses work. Thousands of companies are using the platform to handle routine tasks from scheduling meetings to coordinating collaborations to tracking expenses. Developers are already exploring the capabilities of this platform, so here are some Alexa Skills for business ideas to help get those creative juices flowing.
While Amazon has banned third-party ads from interrupting Skills messages (for now, at least), they are working with potential advertisers on ways to leverage their ads into the Skills themselves.
If advertising does come to the platform, it would be fascinating to see interactive ads that engage with listeners. The ad could then be personalized depending on the response received by the listener.
Nithya Thadani, CEO of digital consulting firm RAIN, told Wired Magazine that the solution would be for advertisers to create an interactive experience that seems less like a traditional ad and more like useful content.
“You want to build a skill or a voice experience that’s going to bring people back,” she said.
“And we have found that the ones that are providing real utility are the ones that do that. The goal right now is to learn as much as possible, build engagement with customers, and start to make connections...rather than rushing to a fully formed solution,” she explained.
One of the biggest day-to-day hassles that retail outlets must cope with is inventory management. Spreadsheets and databases can keep track of the quantities of each item, but they aren't always accessible where they're needed, such as the warehouse or the retail floor. While a few companies are working on Alexa Skills that incorporate voice-activated inventory management, the demand for such Skills still outweighs the supply of flexible, conversational approaches.
Simple Recon, a developer of software for the auto dealer industry, created an Alexa Skills package that allowed dealers the chance to track their inventory and receive crucial updates. The package also lets managers know which repair projects are on schedule, and which ones are falling behind.
In a press release announcing the package, Simple Recon founder Smit Shah said, “As we move towards becoming an increasingly digital society, it’s important that we provide solutions that match the way dealers access information and do business, and in this case that means voice reports.”
In 2018, we’d love to see these ideas going a step further, pairing Alexa with sensors or additional data to alert warehouse managers about shortages, aging stock or missing items.
Customer relationship management systems (CRMs) help smooth the way for businesses to interact with their clients and customers. An Alexa Skills developer who can integrate the interactive experience of the voice-activated system with the massive amounts of data found in CRM systems will provide an invaluable resource to those already using CRMs.
According to Will Kelly of IT Toolbox, “Whether it’s customers interacting with your call center from their Alexa device or one of your salespeople using an Alexa device to access customer data, sales reports, and pipeline information, the future of CRM user experience is voice.”
The Alexa Skills platform has also helped businesses move their content from static text and videos to fully interactive audio experiences. This shift also requires a change in how developers approach the process of content creation and management. Developers must not only consider what kind of content they will provide to users, but how the user will interact with that content.
At Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, Vice President of Information Technology Rod Tosten had to deal with these challenge on a campus with over 2,400 students and 225 faculty and staff. He worked with the content management experts at dotCMS to create Alexa Skills that would enable students and faculty to find, search for, and create useful content for the entire campus. Tosten and dotCMS also worked on how to present the information within a conversational flow, so that the user received as much or as little information as they needed at that time.
"With the internet of things, and the introduction of Siri and Alexa, we have to think of our content as a service," Tosten said. "We have to think of our content as being consumed and presented on audio devices, such as Alexa. It's a shift from a one-way presentation to a conversation."
Okay, this one is optimistic, but we couldn’t resist.
While users and developers have explored the potential that Alexa Skills have to offer, the proprietary nature of the platform may cause users of competing packages to run into roadblocks. Amazon and Google have all but declared open hostilities on each other's platforms.
Amazon has refused to carry the competing Google Home assistant or its Chromecast streaming device in its online store. Google retaliated by blocking access to YouTube from Amazon's Echo Show and FireTV devices. Amazon's relationship with Microsoft may be only slightly less tense. The two companies were originally supposed to work together, with Amazon's Alexa working with Microsoft's Cortana together so that Amazon users could integrate their Skills with Microsoft's popular Office package.
Instead, Amazon seems to be working around Cortana to allow users to communicate directly to their Office software. Richard Windsor, an analyst with Radio Free Mobile, told Forbes Magazine, “It seems that Amazon is short-cutting its partner by going for the enterprise completely independently of its partnership with Microsoft."
Amazon has already confessed that it plans to put Alexa “everywhere” — so we figure our Alexa Skill ideas will be a reality sooner rather than later.
And with that in mind, these are exciting times, because with such a simple, voice-first interface, digital assistants such as Alexa could bring more changes to the office in 2018 than the web browser did nearly a quarter-century ago.
Gettysburg College build a set of skills for their students, and this is what they learned.
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