Why Every Enterprise Needs an Amazon Alexa Skill Right Now
Amazon Alexa is a voice interface that provides users a new way of interacting with home devices through products such as Amazon Echo, Echo Show, Echo Dot, Echo Look and Amazon Tap. Virtual assistants are fast becoming commonplace in the home through products like these, with more than 10 million Alexa-enabled devices having been sold as of May 2017.
But the home is only the beginning of Amazon’s vision for Alexa. Amazon has extended Alexa’s API so developers can build Alexa Skills, which are essentially third-party apps that take advantage of Alexa’s amazing capabilities. The Alexa Skills marketplace is rapidly growing, from 1,000 to 15,000 in just one year in the Alexa Skill Store, part of the reason that analysts estimate Alexa to become a $10 billion industry by 2020. For businesses, it’s time to get on board now to build with Alexa as it grows.
By 2018 Gartner estimates 30% of interactions with smart machines will occur by voice, spurring voice interaction as the next major paradigm shift for the way people interact with their devices.
The last major paradigm shift in device interaction was when mobile apps came on the market about 10 years ago with the release of the iPhone. Touch existed as a user interface before the iPhone, but took off with the introduction of mobile apps. Many companies realized the criticality of creating a mobile app when the market was new and hot, but others were slower and failed to innovate early enough to seize market share. Some are still struggling to catch up.
Don’t make that mistake with Voice. The same scramble will occur. Over the next few years, companies need to understand this new technology and how it applies to their business. And there will be fight over talent skilled in Alexa Skills and other voice-assistant technologies. With the expected meteoric growth, voice could become the primary way people interact with the internet in as little as 10–15 years.
It’s already happening with the younger generations. More than 50% of Millennials use voice commands at least once a month to interact with their devices, and people of the post-Millennial generation, sometimes called Generation Z, are already organically using voice as the primary form of interaction with any machine. Millennials also make up the largest percentage of the workforce and will soon be joined by Generation Z. This equates to a huge percentage of employees that will expect to be able to use voice commands in an office environment.
Amazon is doing everything it can to spur the rise of a voice-driven future. The company has purposely created a low barrier of entry with its Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), making it very easy for developers to jump in with both feet and create custom experiences through third party integrations. An ASK developer account with Alexa is free and integrates seamlessly with AWS, making development projects both affordable and scalable right out the gate.
Although Amazon Alexa wasn’t first to the voice assistant market (it was preceded by Siri, Cortana and Google Now), it has taken the market by supporting developers. Contrastingly, Siri has been very locked down, allowing third party development only in narrow categories. Cortana and the newer Google Assistant are also now in catch-up mode. The good news for everyone is this competition is fueled by billions of dollars of R&D, which will surely stimulate innovation in voice at breakneck speed.
What Alexa Skills Mean for Businesses
Regardless of industry or worker/customer demographics, organizations should be immediately incentivized to start experimenting with voice because people are going to expect it in the near future. As with every other major technology paradigm shift, those who wait and watch will be behind the times while those who jump in will become innovators, seize market share, and define what the future of voice looks like.
Because Alexa Skills are so new to the market, companies have a world of infinite possibilities in front of them. Not much has been done yet, so there’s a lot of room to become the first to provide a unique interaction for a specific type of business. Skills can be used as a way to obtain information about a company or product (e.g. “Alexa, what’s the Forbes quote of the day?”), augment existing mobile apps and web applications with voice-enabled digital services (e.g. “Alexa, what’s my account balance?”), or enhance customer experiences (“e.g. Alexa, order me a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks”).
AIM Consulting has already built and released Alexa Skills into the marketplace (i.e. Seattle Parks Events), so we know how the platform and submission process works. The Seattle Parks Events Skill allows families to find out what events are happening in Seattle’s parks in a given timeframe. Having experimented enough with Alexa Skills to build a knowledge base and best practices, AIM is now exploring ways to leverage Alexa Skills for our client partners.
Do You Have to Build Your Alexa Skill Right Now?
As with mobile apps, you shouldn’t jump into the market with little thought to the digital experience you are providing your customers—you will want to take a strategic, meaningful approach that adds a lot of value to your customers if you can—but there’s really no reason not to get started with Alexa Skills as soon as possible. The business benefits for doing this early on are plentiful:
- Your investment in the technology is safe. With Alexa controlling such a huge percentage of the marketplace already, it’s likely to maintain that lead for some time. Choosing to develop an Alexa Skills (rather than for another voice platform) simplifies development from both the product strategy and technical development standpoints. Keeping things simple at first means you don’t need to develop for 3–4 platforms at one time. You can develop for Siri, Cortana and the Google Assistant later as necessitated by the market.
- At the moment, Amazon has tremendous incentive to help companies succeed with Alexa Skills and offers strong customer support for Skills development. This level of support will be likely to dissipate as the market grows.
- The Alexa Skills platform will grow more complex. As the technology matures, so will expectations for features and functionality. Getting in early and developing a basic Skill gives you the opportunity to learn without much consequence and iterate as you mature. Right now, you’re not expected to have a completely mature Skill. There’s time to evolve as Alexa’s technology evolves. This will change, just as it did for mobile apps.
- With voice being relatively new, it’s an incredible opportunity to beat your competitors to market with a compelling consumer experience that can differentiate you in your industry. Getting ahead of the curve means you won’t be scrambling to figure things out after your competitors have already done so.
- As an added bonus, the companies that are first to market will be acknowledged as innovators and may receive a substantial amount of positive media attention.
How AIM Consulting Can Help
At the moment, most companies are generally not equipped internally to build Alexa Skills. AIM Consulting is positioned to help clients research and develop Alexa Skills. AIM also has an established capability in Digital Experience and Mobile, with a substantial track record of developing mobile apps for the enterprise. The consulting capability we bring to businesses will ensure we establish strategic objectives as well as best practices and processes to position clients as innovator in the voice marketplace.
Our expertise includes:
- Identifying ways that Alexa Skills can be applied to your current business.
- Developing Alexa Skills end-to-end, from UX workflows to mature, operational products
- Incorporating your company’s APIs and web applications
- Leveraging familiarity with AWS’s cloud services.
- Developing using AWS’s cloud-based Lambda functions as well as DynamoDB.
The first touchpoint is usually a strategy session and workshop to explore possibilities and help you create and review ideas for how voice implementation can add value to your business.
The paradigm shift to voice will happen in a very short time. The fundamental structure of the world of voice interaction is being developed right now, the foundation that will support every innovation in voice as it matures over the next decade. With such huge growth and amazing possibilities ahead, the best time for your business to start its Alexa journey is now.