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

 
 
By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2016-03-28 Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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    1 - How to Build an Amazon Echo-Like Digital Assistant for the Office
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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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    2 - It Needs to Play Well With Secure Business Networks
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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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    3 - A Different Kind of Virtual Assistant
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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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    4 - A Capable Calendar Feature Is Essential
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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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    5 - Help Users Book Travel Reservations
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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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    6 - Clever Hardware Design Would Help
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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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    7 - It Might Also Be Used to Set Up Conference Calls
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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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    8 - Toss in a Camera for Video Conferencing
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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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    9 - Full Office Integration Would Be a Plus
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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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    10 - Diverse Business App Support Would Help
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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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    11 - It Would Cost More
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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.
 

The Amazon Echo smart home appliance wasn't expected to be a sales success at launch. In fact, many analysts wondered whether it would even find a market due to its unorthodox collection of features, including a virtual assistant, built-in speaker and reliance on third-party services. But nine months since its general release, Echo has proved popular among consumers, and now it's a product that other companies want to mimic. Unconfirmed news reports on March 25 suggested that Google was working on its own Amazon Echo competitor that would ostensibly use its Google Now virtual assistant to power the device. While this rumored device would likely be designed as a consumer product for home use, what would it take if Google or another company decided to design an Echo-like digital assistant for business or at least home offices? It's true that smartphone users already have access to digital assistants like Apple's Siri to handle some work tasks. But what would it take to build a versatile, stand-alone digital assistant with features that would make it useful and effective as a business tool? This slide show will try to answer those questions and point out features that could make an Echo-like device a success in business offices.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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