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Amazon wants to put Alexa on your office desk

The latest extension of Amazon's digital assistant lets office workers reorder supplies and fire up a conference call with voice commands.

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Alexa for Business is designed for tasks like voice activated teleconferencing. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Amazon hopes the next spot you put an Echo will be right next to your office stapler. (And by the way, would you like to ask Alexa to reorder some staples?)

On Thursday, the e-commerce giant announced Alexa for Business, a new application that brings the company's voice-activated digital assistant into the workplace. The service creates a way for office workers to reorder supplies and fire up teleconference meetings with voice commands.

It's the latest extension of the popular Alexa product, which Amazon has already suffused into Echo speakers, streaming-device remote controls and cameras, all of which are typically used in the home. Bringing Alexa into an office environment comes with lots of challenges, including IT management of the devices and corporate-level security needs. But if Amazon succeeds in introducing Alexa into this new area, it could help the company sell many more Echo devices and embed its voice assistant into a major facet of people's day-to-day lives.

Two other new venues the Echo has moved into include rooms at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas and a new Arizona State University residential space for engineering students. 

"We found that customers have loved the experience at home, and this is a way to extend that into their workplace," Toni Reid, Amazon's vice president of Alexa experience and Echo devices, said at the Business Insider Ignition conference in New York. She added that it will take years for Alexa to go fully global. 

The new Alexa for Business service allows functions like joining meetings in conference rooms by saying, "Alexa, start the meeting," or it can be customized with special skills to help with directions around the office, finding an open conference room, reporting a building equipment problem or ordering new supplies.

Some analysts had predicted Alexa for Business was on the way, noting that Amazon was already creating the building blocks for an office-friendly voice assistant that could make phone calls and recognize the voices of different users.

Gartner analyst Werner Goertz said in a blog post that Thursday's announcement was "just the beginning," with Alexa potentially offering many more functions in a business setting going forward. For instance, Amazon will allow for private Alexa apps, which may let businesses create voice-enabled apps tailor-made for their employees.

He added that Amazon's new transcription and translation services through its cloud-computing Amazon Web Services division could also offer some new tools for Alexa down the road.

Despite the fast pace of Alexa international rollouts, it will take years before Alexa is fully global, according to Amazon executive Reid. "We'd love to go faster," she said, but the company needs to insure quality control as it widens abroad. 

Alexa debuted in the US in 2014 and has since widened to the UK, Germany, India and Japan. It's moving into Canada next month and Australia and New Zealand in early 2018.

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