Have you tried integrating a digital assistant into your office? It’s not as unusual as you might think. This year, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month, according to a forecast by eMarketer, and that’s more than double the number of 2016 users.1 Virtual assistants—the actual software inside various devices—include Amazon’s Alexa®, Apple’s Siri®, Google Now, and Microsoft’s Cortana®. The numbers also include voice-enabled speakers that use virtual-assistant software, such as Amazon’s Echo™ and Echo Dot and Google Home. 

These devices were designed for home use: “Alexa, turn on lights,” “Siri, play my favorites on Pandora®,” “Alexa, what’s the capital of Bulgaria?” etc. Most digital assistants put restrictions on what developers can do with their systems, but in 2016 Amazon decided to open up the Alexa platform to allow third-party developers to create “skills” (think programs) for Alexa. When you give Alexa a command or ask it a question, it’s now possible to connect to a developer’s program, and much of this content is designed specifically for use by businesses.

If you already have an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, you may have tried it at home without realizing what it could do to increase efficiencies in your business. If you go to the main page at Alexa.amazon.com on your smart phone, simply click on the “skills” button in the left navigation bar, select the skill you want, and click or tap “enable.” You’ll then be on your way to using your digital assistant to help your business run more smoothly. Once a skill is enabled, you just need to say “Alexa, open [name of skill] skill” to connect to the program you want.

Before you start, you might want to check out the SkillFinder skill to help you find programs your company could use. SkillFinder can give more information about a particular skill, list the newest skills, and even give you a “skill of the day” to check out.

Here’s a brief sampling of some of the skills you can enable through your Echo or Echo Dot:

·         Manage conference calls with the Conference Manager skill. It syncs with Google Calendar to identify your next conference call, dial the conference number, and enter your code. All you have to do is say, “Start my call.”

·         Order office supplies. Echo keeps a list of your previous order history so you don’t need to specify the type of copy paper or pen each time.

·         Order a ride from Uber or Lyft.

·         Translate a sentence from English into more than 30 languages verbally and more than 100 sentences in writing.

·         Manage email through a variety of available skills that will read your emails to you, allow you to sort them, help you search for a particular person or topic, etc.

·         Add events to your Google Calendar on the fly by using Quick Events.

·         Play ambient music in your waiting room or office.

·         Track business expenses with Expense Tracker, adding the amount of that business lunch or taxi ride to the proper category.

·         Check the traffic on your way to and from work. Once Alexa knows the locations for your home and office, you just need to ask for the commute time.

·         Track your time through the Work Time Tracker, which can be especially helpful if you bill clients by the hour or want to log the time spent on specific projects.

·         Play the latest TED talk, business audio book, or e-zine to get information on topics like leadership or technology, or the latest news in your profession or industry.

These are just a few of the many business skills you can add to your Echo or Echo Dot device. It would be worth your while to invest some time in seeing what it can do to help make your life easier and help your company succeed.

1. https://www.emarketer.com/Article/Alexa-Say-What-Voice-Enabled-Speaker-Usage-Grow-Nearly-130-This-Year/1015812

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