Alexa gets smart meeting scheduling, a boost to its workplace presence

Amazon says the new Smart Scheduling Assistant feature allows the popular virtual assistant to cut the time needed to manage personal schedules in the office.

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Alexandra / Alexas Fotos (CC0)

Amazon has made it easier for business users to manage personal schedules via Alexa voice commands, adding the ability to move appointments and schedule meetings based on participants’ availability. 

The digital assistant has quickly gained traction among consumers and Amazon is intent on replicating its success in the workplace – as shown by the launch of its Alexa for Business service last year.

While it was already possible to create and cancel appointments with Alexa, the Smart Scheduling Assistant feature gives users more control, cutting time and effort, Amazon said in a blog post this week.

To schedule a one-to-one meeting, a calendar must first be linked to a user’s Alexa account.

Saying “Alexa, schedule a meeting with John,” prompts Alexa to suggest times that are free in both diaries. It is also possible to reschedule appointments using G Suite and Microsoft Office 365 and Exchange calendars. 

The new features should help “solidify the case for Alexa in the workplace,” said Raul Castañón-Martínez, senior analyst at 451 Research. “Scheduling meetings is a common problem for knowledge workers and a drain on productivity, but few vendors have tackled this challenge,” he said.

While other digital assistant vendors have highlighted automated meeting scheduling in their roadmaps, they have yet to make the functionality available to users, said Castañón-Martínez. This puts Alexa for Business “one step ahead” of rivals such as Cisco, Microsoft and Google, all of which are also placing emphasis on voice-enabled task automation. 

“The integration with calendaring apps is key for Amazon because its key competitors, Microsoft and Google, are entrenched in the productivity and collaboration space,” said Castañón-Martínez. “Amazon needs to get its foot in the door.”

Calendaring is just a starting point, he said; there is potential for Alexa to integrate with other workplace productivity tools.  

“Expanding the integration to other productivity and collaboration tools that are used for different workflows and tasks should give Alexa for Business more stickiness in the workplace,” said Castañón-Martínez. 

Other features that rivals are working on include meeting recording, transcription and summarizing, providing ‘intelligent’ tasks for following up on action items and completing tasks, he said. 

Alexa is also making inroads into the PC market: Acer has announced plans to market the first laptops with Alexa pre-loaded. 

A slew of Alexa-supporting devices were unveiled at CES this year, as several leading hardware vendors touted the inclusion of Amazon’s voice assistant as a major selling point. Earlier this week, Acer announced that it is the first manufacturer to ship devices with Alexa pre-installed, including its Spin 3 and Spin 5 product lines.

The company said a wider range of Aspire, Switch and Swift notebooks, as well as Aspire all-in-one PCs, will become available “over the next few weeks.”

“We believe customers should be able to interact with Alexa wherever they might need her, including from their PCs, in order to take advantage of the simplicity of voice control,” Steve Rabuchin, Amazon’s vice president for Alexa, said in a statement.

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