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How to Create an Alexa Skill for Business

By Derek Walter
Business.com / Computers / Last Modified: June 5, 2018
Photo credit: Amazon

Artificial intelligence is already a driving force in the enterprise. Recent innovations demonstrate companies need a smarter way to work. Alexa could be it.

Alexa isn't just for the smart home. Amazon's smart assistant is on a roll, and it's starting to make its way into the business world. For example, Financialforce demonstrated how it could turn an Amazon Echo into a smart office aide that can fetch expense reports and other important business documents with just a few voice commands. If you're intrigued about the idea of a command-powered office, here are some key details to know.

Earn some cash

Amazon compensates developers for top-performing and engaging voice apps across a half-dozen categories. The program started just paying out for high-quality games, but now that program extends to education and reference, food and drink, health and fitness, lifestyle, music and audio and productivity. The company doesn't do a great job of describing what it means by engaging, but it does say it's looking for 'voice-first' apps that are unique and feature fresh content. Note: The dollar amounts aren't astronomical, with the best skill has earned $5,000, but the 300th skill would get about $100. The company is also giving away Amazon Web Services promotional credits. 

How to make a skill

Making an Alexa skill is for those developer experience. There are several good tutorials that can walk you through the process. To get started, check out the Alexa developer site and grab the Alexa Skills Set. This has all the requisite APIs along with code tools, documentation and other resources for getting started.

Another good resource to explore is AWS Lambda. Built on the Amazon Web Services platform, it's a cloud service that lets you run code without the need to provision or manage servers. It can be a crucial backend that is cloud-based and has minimal cost, thanks to Amazon's dominance in this space.

Developer Brian Donahue also has an excellent walkthrough for those who are new to the world of Amazon Alexa development. Experienced developers can be up and running with making a skill in a relatively short amount of time.

Whether you publish the skill or keep it in-house, the next key step is to go through a beta test. Developers have the capability to run one with Amazon's tools, and control access to who can give the Alexa Skill a try.

Possible business uses

Once you know what to do, the question then is what to do with that knowledge. As the Financialforce demo revealed, there is a lot of potential uses for Alexa in business.

Some current skills point to this use. Quick Events, for example, lets you add items to your Google Calendar. Chat Bot for Slack gives you the power to post messages to Slack via voice. Additionally, Complete Tasks work with the Complete mobile app to give you a quicker way to add tasks than searching for your phone.

None of them are dramatically life changing just yet. Alexa may need deeper capabilities into a company's database or other APIs before this becomes a real must-have type of workflow.

Despite the early days of this type of technology, developing a skill just for one's business may also be valuable. If your organization is beginning to dabble with using Alexa in the office, a simple skill that allows one to request a form or make a simple request would be a great way to get started.

The key is to think not only about the use cases but if they can be accomplished well with voice. Since the Echo doesn't offer any type of visual confirmation right away (some answers are shared through the Alexa app) you have to keep in mind if the workflow you're trying to achieve can be accomplished in just an auditory form. Note: Amazon doesn't yet allow developers to charge users for voice apps, nor does it allow for in-app purchases.

Bottom Line

Artificial intelligence is already a driving force in the enterprise. The recent innovations by Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and other competitors in this space demonstrate that companies are seeking a smarter way to work. Alexa could fulfill that mission, but it's going to take some clever applications and more robust capabilities before we get there.

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