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Amazon, Put Alexa on the Conference Room Table to Start the Meeting

By Corey Moss

Discussion that has been had in the audio visual industry for a year or so about voice control for the business environment has finally come to fruition – Amazon has brought their intelligent voice assistant to the conference room to start your meeting with Echo technology.

Alexa for Business logo

Last week, on the stage at AWS re:Invent 2017, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels delivered his keynote detailing the new Alexa for Business, a fully managed service for Alexa voice-controlled devices at work. Instead of entering conference IDs, Alexa will know what room you’re in, what line to call (and the ID), so you can instead just say, “Alexa, start the meeting.”  Alexa for Business provides tools and resources for organizations to set up and manage Alexa devices at scale, enable private skills, and enroll users. Numerous UC&C-related companies are a part of the Alexa for Business ecosystem – including conferencing and collaboration hardware solutions providers Crestron, Polycom and Cisco, and cloud provider Zoom. UCaaS company RingCentral is also an integrated solutions provider.

Vogels keynote reignite

Certain questions do arise in relation to this announcement:

  • How many times have you struggled with audio visual equipment in a conference room to start a meeting?
  • How many conference calls have you joined, only to be asked to enter a conference ID multiple times?
  • How much do unproductive meetings actually cost the company?

These are some of the issues that Alexa for Business intends to target, and thus solve.

Fred Bargetzi, Chief Technology Officer at Crestron had the following to say:

“Everyone has a meeting horror story, and it often involves trying to use the technology for collaboration or a presentation.” He continued, “It isn’t just annoying – meetings start an average of 10-12 minutes late, and unproductive meetings cost American businesses an estimated $37 billion annually.” *

Crestron specifies how from launching a web conference to pulling up presentation materials on-screen, the power of Crestron and Amazon Alexa will help ensure meetings are timely and productive. It’s known that Crestron has been working together with AWS for more than a year in the residential and hospitality markets, using voice control to optimize living situations – now many enterprise businesses that already use Crestron technology can add similar Amazon Alexa voice-controlled skills to manage their office space.

“Voice control is transforming the way we live and work, so the enterprise skill is a natural extension of our existing collaboration,” said Dan Jackson, Head of Enterprise Innovation at Crestron. “People already love Amazon Alexa in their homes, and importantly, they already know how it works. We’re creating one consistent, responsive experience to anticipate your needs, no matter where you are.”

Bargetzi continued his statement above saying, “Now, leveraging the power of Amazon Alexa voice control, Crestron can handle it all for you. Today’s announcement is just the beginning – enterprise voice control is going to be a productivity game-changer.”

Polycom CTO Greg Pelton joined the AWS re:Invent 2017 Conference in Las Vegas to demo Alexa for Business controlling Polycom’s RealPresence Group Series video conference solution. This use of natural language creates the first “no touch” video conference experience bringing a new level of simplicity and ease of use to video conferencing in the future.

According to their WorkSpace Today blog “Alexa, Start My Video Call ……”, Polycom points out that whether it is Alexa, Siri or Cortana, consumers are controlling their phones, music and cars using natural language. These innovations have made many things simpler and easier for everyday tasks, and now, Polycom is leading the way to include them in meeting spaces.

Specifications for usage with Cisco Telepresence systems are here on the AWS website.

Zoom, in their Zoom with Alexa for Business: Meet Without Lifting a Finger blog discusses joining a Scheduled Zoom Meeting, starting an Instant Zoom Meeting and ending a Zoom Meeting through the Alexa voice-enabled platform. Alexa cloud technology meets one of the industry’s top cloud videoconference platforms, certainly more interesting things to come as this develops.

RingCentral (named a Gartner UCaaS Magic Quadrant Leader in 2017) integration enables the use of voice commands to join meetings, send text messages, listen to voicemails, and make calls in an easy and intuitive way. RingCentral blog Creating Seamless Voice Experiences with Alexa for Business discusses how it’s no surprise that consumer technology inevitably makes its way into the workplace, and that it’s a pattern seen many times over with technologies like instant messaging, mobile apps, and more. RingCentral claims that the same pattern is set to take place once again with voice assistants coming to the workplace, and how they believe the impact will be big.

RingCentral users can join any meeting scheduled in other Amazon Alexa–compatible third-party meeting applications, without the need to download those applications. Begin the meeting with the “Start the Meeting” command, no need to dial a conference call-in number or remember a meeting ID number. Using Alexa for Business, you can also join the audio portion of a RingCentral meeting directly through an Amazon Alexa–enabled device.

The full listing of Amazon Alexa for Business solutions providers (software, conferencing and consulting) is here.

Some of the challenges though will be in large enterprise companies investing in the cost of many Amazon devices (the Alexa for Business Starter Kit is here), along with the security questions that no doubt arise with the integrated usage of this type of technology. An article in Inc. Magazine details this challenge.

Crestron and Amazon Web Services Join Forces to Make Meetings Productive

Header photo: AWS website


With over 20 years in audio visual integration and IT/computer sales and consulting, Corey Moss is the owner of Convergent AV. Corey writes for the publication and hosts/produces podcasts – The AV Life, The Collaboration Factor and Convergent Tech Talk. He has written for numerous industry publications about AV, IT, unified communications and collaboration (UCC), cloud and software, IoT, cybersecurity and more. He has also conducted interviews with AV and IT executives and global influencers.

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