How to Build an Amazon Echo-Like Digital Assistant for the Office

1 - How to Build an Amazon Echo-Like Digital Assistant for the Office
2 - It Needs to Play Well With Secure Business Networks
3 - A Different Kind of Virtual Assistant
4 - A Capable Calendar Feature Is Essential
5 - Help Users Book Travel Reservations
6 - Clever Hardware Design Would Help
7 - It Might Also Be Used to Set Up Conference Calls
8 - Toss in a Camera for Video Conferencing
9 - Full Office Integration Would Be a Plus
10 - Diverse Business App Support Would Help
11 - It Would Cost More
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How to Build an Amazon Echo-Like Digital Assistant for the Office

Here's what it would take to build a versatile, stand-alone digital assistant with features that would make it an effective business tool.

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It Needs to Play Well With Secure Business Networks

The corporate world has sophisticated networks that often include guest and secure connections, firewalls and all kinds of other security features. Therefore, it's important that the Echo alternative hedges for those security eventualities and plays well on sophisticated networks. The last thing users want is an ugly set-up process and constant issues due to connectivity problems across the network.

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A Different Kind of Virtual Assistant

Apple's iOS is probably the smartest available digital assistant right now. While Amazon's Alexa is getting smarter each day, Amazon has mostly added features for consumers. To be successful in the enterprise, any virtual personal assistant must think first about business applications. Business people want to know what's ahead in their day, what they forgot to do the day before and how they can more adeptly arrange their calendars to be as productive as possible. Any corporate-focused virtual assistant needs to consider business needs before consumer needs.

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A Capable Calendar Feature Is Essential

The Echo comes with support for some calendars and will tell users what they have to do on a particular day, but the enterprise needs more functionality. A businessperson should be able to find out what their colleagues have going on that day, set up appointments on the fly and store conference call numbers with appointments to intelligently call when it's time. The device's calendar should feel like the real thing—only delivered through a piece of hardware.

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Help Users Book Travel Reservations

Booking travel reservations is a common task for business people. So it would be nice to see it built into an enterprise-focused Amazon Echo. Users could quickly tell the device where they're going, and since it would use cloud-based knowledge, the virtual assistant would respond with an itinerary and booking options. From there, it would save that itinerary and remind the user of important items when it comes time to travel.

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Clever Hardware Design Would Help

The Amazon Echo's design is compact enough to be inconspicuous in any room. That needs to be a primary design goal for any competitive device. Such a device would be installed in an executive's office, in the middle of several cubicles for multiuser support or in a conference room. In all of those cases, it needs to be able to blend into its surroundings, but ready to respond when called.

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It Might Also Be Used to Set Up Conference Calls

As noted, the enterprise-focused Echo-like device could be used in a conference room. Therefore, it should become a useful conference call utility. Like the Echo, the device could (and should) come with both a speaker and microphone, and allow users to hold their conference calls. Since many companies have already moved to IP phones, the Echo-like device would act like it was one and deliver the same conference call features one would find in a standard phone. Perhaps this is also an opportunity for a company such as Polycom to build more intelligence into their conferencing and collaboration devices.

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Toss in a Camera for Video Conferencing

The corporate world is increasingly moving to video conferencing. It might make sense to include a video camera that would allow users to hold video conferences. The camera would need to be wide-angle and high-definition. Since the device would already feature a microphone and a speaker, with a camera it should work just fine for holding a conversation with remote conference participants. It might boost the price, but any CIO would undoubtedly like to see a camera.

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Full Office Integration Would Be a Plus

While Google, Zoho and others have tried to supplant Microsoft's Office in enterprises, they have had little success. The truth is Office 365 remains the most popular corporate productivity suite in the world. So Office should be fully supported in the design of an office digital assistant. An advanced design digital assistant should be able to recite the contents of Word documents and emails and enable users to dictate documents and create new Outlook email messages.

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Diverse Business App Support Would Help

Since it's targeted at consumers, Amazon's Echo comes with a healthy helping of consumer-focused applications. In the enterprise, though, they won't work. So for business users, it would be ideal for the device to support sales applications such as those from Salesforce.com. It'd also be nice to see support for the Slack team collaboration app and the TripIt travel organizer. The more business apps the device could support, the better.

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It Would Cost More

There's no way any company could deliver an enterprise-focused digital assistant with the same $180 price tag of the Amazon Echo. But the corporate world would expect to pay more for an effective device that acts as a conference call manager and digital assistant capable of scheduling appointments or making reservations while providing answers to a wide range of questions. Like anything else, it's all about value in the enterprise. If a business digital assistant can deliver the aforementioned features, it's hard to believe such a device wouldn't justify a higher price tag.

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