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Amazon Alexa Is Going to the Office

March 28, 2017, 11:00 AM UTC

The Amazon Echo connected speaker is used by many consumers at home to order pizza, check the weather, and make shopping lists. Now, Teem, a tech company that helps businesses manage meetings, is banking that Echo is ready for the workplace.

Teem has built an Echo application or “skill” to allow Amazon’s device to work with its scheduling software. And, as those who work in large offices can attest, booking a conference room is not always as easy as it looks.

The big bet here, of course, is that voice will be a key way to interact with computers to get things done. In this realm, Amazon Echo, with its Alexa voice control capabilities, competes with Google Home, Microsoft Cortana, and Apple’s (AAPL) Siri.

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Teem, formerly known as EventBoard, initially used iPads and Android devices as conference room booking boards. Now, it has firmly brought the Echo device into the fold.

Because Teem’s software already works with Google Calendar and Microsoft (MSFT) Outlook, users can book the conference rooms online, and then use the in-room Echo to either check in or extend the meeting. At some point, they’ll be able to use Echo to fire up audio-visual gear, too, Teem chief executive Shaun Ritchie told Fortune.

Existing Teem customers can now try out a test version of the new Echo-enhanced scheduling product.

Box (BOX), the cloud-based document management company, has been using an early version of the product at its Redwood City, Calif. headquarters and is happy with it, Box chief information officer Paul Chapman said.

“One thing we found is that many conference rooms get booked and then the host never shows up. So we implemented an auto-check rule so that if someone has not checked in within 10 minutes of the start time, we automatically release that room,” Chapman told Fortune. That led to a 17% reclaim rate, meaning other parties are able to quickly reserve and use that room.

Both Ritchie and Chapman acknowledged that the idea of a listening device in the conference room can be off-putting at first. There is some concern over just what Echo listens in on and retains. “We find that some Echoes get unplugged,” Chapman said.

In theory, Echo wakes up to record conversations when it hears its “wake word” (“Alexa,” “Amazon,” “Echo,” or “computer”), and it goes back to sleep when the request is processed.

Ritchie said there is also a mute button to turn off listening altogether. “We understand that there are concerns, even legitimate concerns, if someone is discussing confidential stuff,” he added.

“Interestingly, Amazon has taken heat on this, but we’ve had Siri on our phones for years. Siri is listening to us, Cortana is listening; but Apple and Microsoft have not gotten the same criticism because people seem to have inherent trust in their phones.”

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