The Amazon Echo, better known as Alexa, isn't restricted to native capabilities. There are plenty of extra functions, known as skills, that can be added to her repertoire of talents.
I took a look at some of the business functions offered through Alexa and found them to be diverse and compelling. Here's a list of my 10 favorite work-related uses:
1. Ordering items
The first and foremost way you can use Alexa for business is to order items through Amazon such as office supplies, equipment, and the like.
You might be concerned about security since Alexa will respond to any voice who commands her, but you can configure Alexa to require a passcode you will need to verbally provide to her in order to confirm any purchases. You can also change your Payment settings as well. To do either, open the Alexa App on a mobile device or access the web interface and go to Settings then Voice Purchasing.
You can enter a confirmation code here and tap "Save Changes" or adjust your payment settings if necessary.
Once you've placed the order Alexa can also help your track the status of the package(s) just by asking her "Alexa, where's my stuff?"
2. Personal organization and text communication
You can link your calendar account in the Alexa app or web interface by going to Settings, Account then Calendar. Alexa can then work with you to provide information about your calendar events, or add basic items for you upon request.
For even more flexibility you can add the calendaring Quick Events skill to add reminders, check for conflicting events and add multi-day events to your calendar.
Working with tasks is even easier. Just tell Alexa to add an item to your to-do list; say "Go to the store." She will add it to the list and you can view/manage the list via the Alexa app:
Reminders works much the same way, but keep in mind for Alexa to successfully remind you of an event or item you have to be within earshot of her when she does so.
It's also possible to use Alexa for texting colleagues and associates. You can add the SMS with Molly skill which requires you to create an account and add the contacts you want to communicate with.
SEE: Internet of Things policy (Tech Pro Research)
3. Phone calls
Alexa can't make phone calls for you by default, but you can sign up for a paid Phone.com account and enable the Phone.com Voice Interface skill to have her do so.
4. Spell checker/dictionary
It may sound like a basic feature, but Alexa can be enormously helpful by serving as a spell checker. Just say, "Alexa, how do you spell ..." Onomatopoeia is always a fun one to guess at.
She also has a built-in dictionary which you can rely on to query her to define words ("Alexa, tell me the definition of onomatopoeia.")
You can also add other types of dictionary-related options as skills. The Word Lookup Skill allows you to ask Alexa to define words using a phrase such as "Alexa, ask word lookup for the definition of (word) and also allow her to look up synonyms, the word of the day, and random words.
I've utilized Alexa's spell-checking and dictionary services many times when writing an email or technical article and don't want to stop what I'm doing to have to look up a word or definition. This option is great for productivity and enabling your workflow to continue unimpeded.
SEE: IoT security: What you should know, what you can do (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
5. Research and calculations
Alexa can look up information for you on Wikipedia using the "Alexa, Wikipedia: (topic)" command. She won't read an entire article by default but you can ask her to do so by saying "More." You can also ask Alexa to convert units such as liters to gallons, how many cups are in a quart or to perform mathematical calculations the same as a standard calculator.
The Translated skill can convert a word or phrase to any one of a number of languages such as French, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese or several other options.
You can ask Alexa to recite phrases more slowly so you can enunciate or write them down, and she can also repeat them if requested. As someone who thinks using phrasing in foreign languages while writing content in English adds a certain - je ne sais quoi - the Translated skill can help you find le mot juste.
7. Obtain financial information
If you're a Fidelity customer, Alexa can use the Fidelity Investments Skill to provide you with information about your financial accounts. She can also update you with recent stock market information using the the Stock Exchange Skill and Motley Fool Skill.
8. Obtain business information
Small businesses seeking marketing information can obtain it via the Small Business Marketing Advice by Vistaprint skill. It's also possible to review real estate market trends with the Altos Research - How's The Real Estate Market skill.
Here is the full list of Business and Finance skills if you want to see what else strikes your fancy.
9. Work on your Google Docs
The Edit Docs skill can help you work with your Google Docs via Alexa. Although it may sound less than productive to have Alexa read your docs off in entirety, this skill is more tactical and involves adding content to an existing Google Document, listing the last 10 files you've accessed, or creating new files in a dictation format. You need to sign in with your Google account to link it to Alexa.
10. Track your time
Last but not least, Alexa can help you track the time you spend on various tasks and projects by using the Work Time Tracker skill. As someone who is required to log the hours spent on various technological endeavors so we can plan project capacity and staffing, this skill has greatly benefited me to accurately record my workload.
You don't have to explore skills via the web or the Alexa app; Alexa herself can tell you more about what she has to offer. Use commands such as:
"Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me the Skill of the Day""Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me the newest skills""Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me top skills""Alexa, tell Skill Finder to list categories"
You can also develop your own skills for Alexa.
SEE: How to become an Alexa developer: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Why dumb Amazon Alexa conversations are actually really smart (TechRepublic)
- Why businesses are lining up behind Amazon Alexa in the virtual assistant race (TechRepublic)
- Amazon brings Alexa to more commercial manufacturers with AVS Device SDK (TechRepublic)
- Amazon and Microsoft team up: Alexa and Cortana will soon be able to talk to each other (TechRepublic)
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.