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Author: Sreejit Andrews |07/20/18

Understanding Alexa's IT structure and its impact on the business world

CEO - “Alexa, tell me the 3 key areas I should focus on in Q1 2019 to grow my top line from 16% to 20%”.

Alexa - “Here are the top 3 areas that will help you achieve 20% revenue growth:

  1. Focus more on the APAC region
  2. Improve the results of customer satisfaction surveys
  3. Concentrate on Patanjali as this account has high potential leads, according to Salesforce data.

How cool does that sound? Not in future, but as you read this blog, someone may be asking Alexa these questions already and Alexa would precisely be answering them right.

Who is Alexa?

Alexa is Amazon’s cloud-based voice service available in Amazon’s physical devices like Amazon Dot, Echo, Tap, Echo Show etc. These smart speakers are gaining popularity like never before and are rapidly becoming an integral part of households. As per the latest report by Gartner, 75% of households in the US will have a smart speaker by 2020. Interestingly, Gartner also finds out that these devices are so smart with an added value of impressive of human touch that for most of the owners, it will be very difficult to live without these speakers in the future.

With Alexa entering the market in November 2014, it has almost a three-quarter sized pie with respect to the market share; the market comprising of Google Home and other smaller players like Xiaomi, Alibaba and the newest addition – Apple’s HomePod. With this market share, it is evident that Alexa will be the undoubted market leader in this space for a long time.

How does Alexa work?

Alexa, as simple as it sounds, is backed by Amazon’s Lex, the technology with extremely complex machine learning algorithms, that becomes smarter with every interaction. It uses Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) along with Natural Language Understanding/Processing (NLU or NLP) to understand what the user is asking and respond to it. Simply put, it converts speech to text and vice-versa. However, Alexa is not called smart by these speaking skills alone. What makes her truly smart is the machine learning aspect. Alexa’s learnings increase with every meaningful interaction you have with her.

Alexa can not only be used through smart speakers but can also be integrated with your own hardware device, through Alexa Voice Service (AVS). For instance, you can integrate Alexa with your household security camera to zoom in to the person’s face waiting at your door or turn on/off the water-sprinkler to water the plants in your garden, open and close your drapes, etc., by just speaking to her.

Alexa will answer or perform better around generic subjects with its in-built capabilities (without any coding), for instance, ‘How is the weather today?’ or ‘Set an alarm for 6 AM’. But for queries specific to any business or functionality, one needs to develop these particular ‘skills’ in her. These skills are a customized set of capabilities, backed by coding, which helps Alexa converse with a person regarding a specific functionality, topic or business. For example, if one wants to order pizza or get a cab, she would not know where to order a pizza from or which cab to book, unless you train her by building custom skills.

To understand better, let me put across the technical part of how Alexa works in a very simple way. There are two major aspects to the interaction with Alexa - one is the query a person asks Alexa and the second is the response Alexa provides to that query. For Alexa to understand the query, a person (not necessarily a developer) can develop the skills on a user-friendly interface - ‘developer.amazon.com’; but without a developer-account, the person cannot access this portal. However, to train Alexa as to what and how the response should be, a developer needs to write code on AWS’ Lambda service (as long as you are not building a toy-bot for your little one to converse with Alexa and have fun listening to some standard hard-coded responses).

How can Alexa help in the business world?

Recently at Mindtree, our projects on Alexa has focused on one main purpose, which is to provide a meaningful and delightful experience to the CxOs or Senior Management. The leaders wanted to interact with Alexa and know how different products were performing at different parts of the geography. Though we started the project on a back foot as Alexa is a new technology, the end result was very satisfying and exciting. After enabling Alexa to respond to all the business & financial queries, it seemed like every business should have similar digital smart assistant for two reasons; for telling us the business focus areas or performances and for the day-to-day official needs.

In Nov. 2017, Amazon announced ‘Alexa for Business’ which is a new platform specifically developed for businesses to build custom skills based on their business needs. On this platform, you can build skills and ask Alexa to book a conference room for you, schedule a meeting, manage a to-do list, etc. Imagine asking Alexa to conference two colleagues on a call while sitting in a meeting room and Alexa would look up their numbers in the official communicator, dial and conference the two people for you. She could also remind you to cold call/follow up with a prospect-client based on the information available in the Salesforce data. Doesn’t this entire experience sound fascinating?

Apart from the day-to-day business needs, Alexa can be equally helpful in different industries.

Stay tuned to the next blog on how Alexa can support different industries by providing delightful and memorable experiences to customers. Do you agree that Alexa can become a huge part of the advancing business world?

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