Alexa just landed her first job. Amazon introduced Alexa for Business as an artificial intelligence-powered workplace assistant earlier this month at the Amazon Web Services Reinvent conference in Las Vegas. The move takes workplace AI off smartphones and computer screens and gets it into offices and meeting spaces as a voice-activated office guru powered by Amazon Echo.

Alexa’s first order of business is the conference room. Amazon has worked with Polycom and other audiovisual providers to integrate voice activated functions that will allow employees to speak requests like “start the meeting” upon which Alexa will call the designated conference line and engage presentation or virtual meeting equipment. But the retail giant is also looking to partners like Microsoft, Splunk and Salesforce to provide additional functionality—what Amazon calls Alexa’s “skills.”

Employees are invited to join the company’s user group and each employee profile can be configured to access certain skills. In addition to existing integrations with Outlook calendar and other common enterprise technologies, businesses can also build unique skills into Alexa based on their needs.

Business travel is among Alexa’s very first skills, courtesy of travel industry pioneers. Amazon Alexa skills have been built using TMC APIs, so users can ask Alexa about upcoming business trips, flights, hotel bookings, and transportation. That means travellers can ask Alexa about when they better leave the office to make it to their flight; what their flight number is; or the name and directions to their hotel. To access the TMC information, users must say a specific trigger phrase: “Alexa, ask TMC …” followed by the request. Alexa will then sort through the traveller’s bookings in the TMC system to retrieve the information. Users link their TMC accounts to Alexa. From there, Alexa recognizes the user’s voice to retrieve their personalized travel information.

Travellers cannot book flights or hotels via Alexa—at least not yet. And, for now, the current functionality is limited to select business users during a beta program. TMCs in the States are looking at how to extend Alexa travel skills to more customers through integrations with other online travel management aggregator tools.

This experiment with Alexa represents just an initial foray into machine learning and AI for the business travel industry. “There’s a broad spectrum of tools and capabilities to investigate, and this is only the beginning of what machine learning and early artificial intelligence may bring, “ commented an insider on the project. “We’re looking at what’s emerging, what’s relevant, and what’s possible as new technologies, like Alexa for Business, come to market.”

We’re sure it’s only a matter of time until our very own online booking tool, Atlas, meets Alexa and the rest will be AI history! But be assured, there’ll always be a personal touch behind any Giles robots!


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