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By now, many of us are owners of an Amazon Echo, a Google Home, or other voice-activated assistant. These gadgets are equipped with lots of tricks to smooth the running of a household, but the companies that produce them know that the big market is in applications for businesses. That’s what will move these from novelties to essentials. There are skills you can use in your workplace now that are especially useful for a startup or small business.
To begin with, a voice assistant can remove a little bit of desk clutter. They make great timers for those who use Pomodoro or similar time management systems; and replace sticky note reminders. In fact, you probably have the skills of Microsoft’s Cortana or Apple’s Siri on your computer, so you may not even need a new device. On the other hand, you can run multiple Amazon Echo or Google Home from the same account, a nice feature if you are a solopreneur with an outside office.
Next, check out the lists of Skills available, which are growing daily for each of the different assistants. These Skills can allow you integrate your calendar and to-do lists with voice commands. If you have employees, a single office voice assistant can help you share status reports or add things to each other’s to-do lists, helpful if you and your staff keep different hours. Another use is placing supply orders. It’s easy to add things to a list and send them to a vendor. After all, one reason that Amazon invented the Echo is to generate sales, and the competing devices have these capabilities, too. You can also place catering orders through Skills that connect you to restaurant delivery services. Set it up once, then reorder with a simple request.
Skills can integrate with other devices and technologies that you use through a service called If This Then That (IFTTT), which lists applets that extend different devices. For example, if you use Trello for project management, you can connect it to Alexa or Siri through IFTTT.
Voice assistants work with a range of lighting systems, security features and appliances at home or the office. Want to get the coffee maker running in your office? Ask Alexa as you walk out the door at home. You can also set up a smart doorbell to see who is knocking on your office door and let them in without getting up from your desk, or control lights and temperature settings remotely.
Amazon is upfront about its desire to get Echo devices into business environments. For now, its biggest use is in conference rooms, but that is likely to change. Echo (and many other voice assistants) can connect to calling services like Skype, giving you the services of a conference speaker without any wiring or additional cost. The voice assistant manufacturers also offer ways to make custom Skills that may help you do a specific work task, or offer a new service to your customers.
Voice assistants aren’t indispensable – yet – but they will be before long. There are enough business applications now that you may want to get ahead of the curve. Why not?