Voice-activated technology is one of the new frontiers in how people are interacting with technology. Google, Apple, and Microsoft have all developed voice-command assistants and have begun incorporating them into their enterprise software offerings. This week, Amazon joined the club, announcing the introduction of Alexa for Business at its annual AWS re:Invent conference.
The first rumblings of Amazon’s expansion of the popular voice-activated home assistant came in August, when the Seattle-based giant began posting job listings for a “new AWS/Alexa service” that would be “part of a growing family of SaaS offerings from AWS such as Amazon Chime, Amazon WorkSpaces, and Amazon WorkDocs.” Jay Greene and Laura Stevens of the Wall Street Journal report that the company has added hundreds of engineers to the Alexa team and is giving this initiative preference in hiring in order to keep up with the other tech titans in this highly competitive emerging market.
The technology will allow employees to book conference rooms, start presentations, make calls, join teleconferences, turn lights on or off, obtain Salesforce information, and more. CNBC obtained a list of the break-out sessions at the re:Invent conference showcasing the Alexa for Business offering:
Facebook has made a number of rapid-fire improvements to its enterprise offering Workplace since launching the bold play for the workplace productivity market last year: Earlier this year, it introduced a free tier of the service and added a collection of new features like file-sharing integrations to keep up with the rapidly developing standards of collaboration platforms as Facebook vies for dominance in the market against Slack, Microsoft, Google, Atlassian, and a growing number of new competitors.
This week, the social media giant released another package of new Workplace features, including a desktop app that allows screen sharing and will soon introduce group video chat. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden checks the specs of the latest update:
Previously, the video features in Workplace were limited to live video broadcasts and one-to-one video conversations. Alongside the new apps and features, Facebook is also updating the overall design of Workplace to simplify the interface and make it consistent across Android, iOS, desktop and web[.]
Workplace has positioned itself as the collaboration platform for everyone in your organization — not just those who are so-called “knowledge workers” who are at desks most of the day. The idea is that everyone, from executive to barista to warehouse assistant, will find Workplace easy to use because, well, it looks and feels a lot like the hugely popular Facebook. However, the new desktop apps — for both PC and Mac — are a hat tip that there are, in fact, a lot of those desk-sitters using Workplace, too.
Facebook had said the app was a response to user requests, but Lunden argues that these new features are also aimed at boosting user engagement, as that metric is critical for Workplace’s business model:
The recent news of Microsoft’s massive increase in headcount for its AI division indicates the company’s dedication to the technology that it believes will shape the future. The business unit was launched by CEO Satya Nadella a year ago to position the company for what he saw as a “paradigm shift in computing” of which he wanted Microsoft to be on the forefront.
“Microsoft is dedicated to democratizing AI for every person and organization, making it more accessible and valuable to everyone and ultimately enabling new ways to solve some of society’s toughest challenges,” the company wrote in an announcement at the time.
Having grown from 5,000 to over 8,000 employees, the AI and Research group now accounts for roughly 7 percent of the Seattle-based giant’s total workforce. So what is all that talent working on? What does Microsoft have to show for all this investment?
For starters, the investment goes far beyond human capital. Microsoft’s $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn last year undoubtedly played a big role in the company building out its AI capabilities. An initial run of joint projects is underway, making it clear this merger aims to significantly reshape the way technology is used in the workplace, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reports:
Office 365 will include a new “profile card” that can display LinkedIn information. For example, interviewers using Outlook would be able to easily access LinkedIn profiles of job seekers. This integration, the first between Office 365 and LinkedIn since the acquisition, is designed to make it easier for people to search for others inside their organizations.
The software company Atlassian, already a major player in the enterprise technology game with its applications like Jira, Confluence, and HipChat, has released a new collaboration platform for employees and teams called Stride, to compete with existing products like Slack. Kerry Flynn at Mashable describes Stride as “all about taking action”:
It cuts down on notifications by letting users put themselves in a “Focus Mode,” and it makes it super simple to switch from text to video. The design is mobile-friendly and easy to use, not unlike its competitor Slack. But it offers features that make it arguably a better product than Slack for actually getting work done. …
One of the core features is letting users set themselves as away. That feature is available in competitors, such as Slack’s emoji statuses, but Stride allows users to actually mute specific channels, share what they’re working on, and more easily catchup once they’re done. … Any room in Stride can start a meeting and allow any user to join in via audio or video. It eliminates the need to move to Google Hangouts, BlueJeans, or another third-party video system and can encourage people to switch to video more often.
Steve Goldsmith, general manager for Stride at Atlassian, tells GeekWire reporter Tom Krazit that Stride is integrated with Atlassian’s other software products and will be available in both free and paid tiers with different features:
Workplace Analytics Screenshot (Microsoft)
Last week, Microsoft announced that its Workplace Analytics product was now generally available as an add-on to Office 365 enterprise plans. The program “taps into Office 365 email and calendar metadata, including to/from data, subject lines and timestamps, to shine a light on how the organization collaborates and spends time.” TechCrunch’s Ron Miller takes a closer look:
Microsoft is providing an overview dashboard inside Workplace Analytics and 4 standard views of organizational productivity including Week in the life, which looks at how the entire company spends time and collaborates; Meetings, which looks at the quantity and quality of time spent in meetings; Management and coaching, which measures how much one-on-one time employees are spending with their managers and Networks and collaboration, which looks at how employees are connecting across the company.
You may be thinking if it can look at positive behaviors and productive employees, it could also be used conversely to identify employees who are being less productive, but [Alym Rayani, director for Office 365,] says throughout the private beta, not one company was using it to call out employees.
Instead he said it was about looking at output versus behaviors and finding ways to improve the outcomes. For example, managers could look at the activities of top performers and learn how those people spent their day, then use that data to teach other employees to use those techniques to improve productivity
Tuesday brought multiple developments in the increasingly competitive market for workplace communication and collaboration technology, with Facebook and Microsoft both making newsworthy moves. At Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8, the social media giant revealed that it had added several new features to its “Workplace” enterprise offering, Mashable’s Kerry Flynn reports:
As of Tuesday, Workplace offers new file-sharing integrations, including Salesforce, Quip, and Box. Notably, Dropbox is absent from the initial release. Facebook is also introducing bots into Workplace. Developers can build bots for work chat and for Groups to do tasks like help order food or order a Lyft. …
Facebook is also integrated with eDiscovery and compliance partners to help with exporting documents, making it a better product for companies that have regulatory restrictions and are traditionally unable to use third-party software. Workplace users can also soon broadcast live video from professional video gear.
Facebook is also rolling out some business-oriented additions to its Messenger product, Harry McCracken adds at Fast Company, in an effort to make it a go-to method for communicating with customers:
[T]his year at F8, Messenger is getting Smart Replies, a bot-based technology designed to let a business have common questions be automatically answered via Messenger–such as “What time are you open until today?”–so its proprietors can focus on responding to less typical ones. Facebook is starting off by providing this service to restaurants in the U.S.; eventually, it plans to roll it out to other sorts of businesses and in more countries.
Screenshot of Google Hire
Google is testing a new product called “Google Hire” that will allow employers to post job listings and track and manage applications, Axois reported on Thursday. The applicant tracking system appears to have been developed by Google’s enterprise and cloud services division, led by Diane Greene, whom Google acqui-hired along with her workplace software startup Bebop in 2015. Several tech companies are already using the service, which Joel Cheesman at ERE hears from an anonymous source is pretty neat:
“Google’s launching a whole HR and employment ecosystem,” my source said. “The product suite will include corporate career sites, an ATS, job feeds and ultimately an algorithm that actually helps paid job boards but will disrupt Indeed, big time.” … Companies currently using Google Hire include Medisas, Poynt, DramaFever, SingleHop, CoreOS, Nanz, Touchlab, Calendly, Citizen Inc, Pace Avenue. … Nothing near a Fortune 500 here, but it should just be a matter of time.
The move to launch Google Hire comes on the heels of its Cloud Jobs API product that was introduced in 2016. The release sparked speculation that Google was potentially laying the groundwork to launch a job board. Initial testers included CareerBuilder, Dice and Jibe. Reviews of the API were positive.
It also comes as Google and other Silicon Valley heavyweights are scrambling for pieces of the enterprise software pie. Microsoft finalized its $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn in December, and Facebook rolled out its own job listing feature in February. The giants of the Internet are also battling to dominate the productivity and collaboration software market: Google recently rolled out a set of new workplace tools as part of its G Suite enterprise offering, and Facebook is now testing a freemium version of its Workplace tool.