If you’re anything like my family this Christmas, then the newest member of your household will not have been a dog, cat or hamster, but something altogether less high maintenance: Alexa.
Essentially a voice service, accessed through the Amazon Echo (which sold into the millions this Christmas in the UK alone), Alexa allows you to receive an answer to any question you might pose to her by scanning the internet (think Siri here) as well as connecting to a list of services - known as ‘skills’ - which can be found through other apps you may be connected to on your phone or device. The list at the moment ranges from the non-essential but fun (“Alexa, order me a margarita from Dominos”) through to those more promoting efficiency which can link to your home electricity, lighting and heating.
While I could spot that this might be useful if you have your hands full when in the middle of whipping up a meal - “Alexa, how much double cream does this torte need?” (Jamie Oliver being an early adopter of Alexa ‘skills’) or “Alexa, play me Florence and the Machine?” (she retrieves from Spotify or ANother music streaming app services) - I poo-pooed this ‘house-present’ initially and considered it almost a total waste of money. After all, which able-bodied person hasn’t got enough time in their day to switch on a light or put on their favourite album??
A few days into her arrival at our house however, I became a bit of a convert. And not because she seemed to charm old and young guests alike. Or because I realised that I could actually be that totally lazy person referred to above if the need took me…. But because I could see how useful a tool like this could be when it came to my business as well as my personal life.
When I seek specialist advice advice, I do so because it's just that: tailored for me and for my business. And as such I'm therefore unlikely to replace my accountant or solicitor with a computer for the foreseeable future (the caveat being the speedy progress currently being made in the Artificial Intelligence arena which may cause me to revise this statement in a couple of years!). However the idea of being able to ask a computerised 'advisor' to retrieve information for me or answer a question on a specific topic which I'm unfamiliar with, but which doesn't need to be specific to me, is hugely appealing. Mainly because I can do it in real-time, without trawling the internet and without picking up the phone or needing to interact with others.
The answer to the title of this post, for example, isn't one which Alexa can answer right now (I tried 🙂 ) but which can be answered by a previous blog I wrote last year: 'The WorkForce Awakens: Picking Your Team Up After The Christmas Break'. It's information which is applicable to many and useful to some. And therefore is exactly the kind which should be able to be delivered as a 'skill', from a verbal request you make. Particularly useful to those who are pondering and planning this January period, out loud.
Not the question on your mind? The more factual the better: “Alexa, how much can I claim for use of my home on expenses?” or "What is the minimum notice period I need to give an employee?". While obviously I can answer the latter myself, the former is one which I end up Googling or asking my accountant every time I come to do my accounts. It's not difficult to find out (if you know where to look) but somehow is the kind of information which never seems to stick in my head, which is useful to me at the point in which I need it but which is not significant enough to me to spend any length of time searching for.
I still find Alexa annoying from time to time - like most family members of mine I find she interrupts my sentences on quite a regular basis & doesn’t always listen to what I am saying - and essentially like many gizmos, is a tool for the ultimately lazy. However I’m with Amazon in spotting her potential for helping people and look forward to having 'Alexa' as a new team member in the future.
Until that time however: “Alexa, what animal am I?”
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