Alexa for Business management coming to Citrix within 90 days

A look at management capabilities in Alexa for Business and Echo Devices

Everyone wants simplicity and improved business productivity; will Alexa or Cortana provide that? It’s too early to tell, but interest in digital assistants is there, even if there is still a lack of killer enterprise use cases. Alexa and others currently help office employees set up meetings and conference calls, read out email, and other mundane tasks (and for the moment that’s OK!), but evidence shows businesses do recognize the potential.

Nearly 24 percent of large companies already use digital assistants and that’s expected to grow to 40 percent within a year. So, why wouldn’t B2B organizations look to find some way to integrate them into their software and platforms? And what’s one aspect businesses will need: Management.

Citrix so far appears to be the first company stepping up to the plate to offer a management solution for customers, even if there doesn’t exactly seem to be demand for it. Granted Alexa for Business was only announced in late November 2017, but still. Citrix has shown willingness in the past to work on forward-thinking ideas, even if it doesn’t always pan out (think Octoblu and the Nirvana Phone). So, it’s not a huge surprise they’d look to find a way to include voice assistants, in some way, into upcoming product releases.

Citrix initially revealed Alexa for Business management during their Synergy 2018 keynote. Unfortunately, that’s all the info we got. As I’m settling in at, digital assistants in the enterprise have sort of turned into my beat and I wanted to find out Citrix’s plans.

I spoke with Milind Mohile, senior director of product management at Citrix. He explained that they built in Alexa for Business management because they see digital assistants gaining traction in the enterprise in the next few years. Voice assistants may have limited use cases now, but Citrix sees the future potential as development expands and as more companies introduce Alexa and other assistants into offices.

Milind showed me a demo of how Alexa for Business management will work through XenMobile. For administrators, accessing and managing Alexa devices (once device setup is out of the way) is rather simple. They can manage Alexa devices and provision new ones alongside all other managed devices in XenMobile. It all looks pretty slick and easy to handle. The only real difficult aspect appears to be the initial device setup.

Amazon has full administrator guides and API documentation worth digging through. It shows that the device enrollment process is still a manual process, using a connected PC. (Something like the Apple Device Enrollment Program would be a big help in the future). Once set up, Amazon and Alexa conduct a handshake authentication for each device and it’s ready to be managed by Citrix through XenMobile, like any other device.

Once devices are enrolled, you do management tasks such as:

  • Associate Alexa devices to specific conference rooms
  • Manage skills, as well as provision any private skills the company may have developed
  • Integrate with conference call systems
  • Associate users personal accounts and Echo devices with your Alexa for Business environment. (Yes, one more BYOD thing to worry about!)

Alexa for Business management will be ready as part of Citrix’s 90-day promise made at Synergy, but additional features will come online down the road. For the moment, Citrix is merely integrating existing Alexa for Business APIs into XenMobile. There are quite a few features in the Alexa for Business API already, so we’ll have to see how all the exact functions get exposed in Citrix’s admin console.

Security is obviously a huge concern for businesses and could be the main reason digital voice assistant adoption stumbles. It seems that every few weeks we hear of Alexa doing something unexpected. Just last week there was the story about the couple’s Amazon Echo recording their conversation and then sending it to someone they knew.

Amazon says the issue arose because Alexa thought it heard the wake word (you have a few wake word options—our fav is the generic “computer”) and then after recording for a bit, thought it then received the command to send message. All that and the couple were just talking about hardwood flooring—potential customers will obviously be very concerned about their corporate data after anecdotes like this.

For their part, Milind said Citrix is working with AWS on more security APIs, but those won’t be ready at launch. Because of this, Citrix admits to seeing limited initial use by customers until security APIs are ready. That’s when they believe adoption will pick up. Clearly security is a huge concern; Citrix has experience with security-conscious customers, so if they work together to get this right, this could go a long way toward helping Alexa in the enterprise.

One of the potential security options that Milind mentioned was disabling Alexa when not in use. With Citrix Analytics and all their security efforts, there’s a lot that they could potentially do. Jack suggested one potential option they should consider is allowing for user authentication via device location.

While Alexa for Business was the first digital assistant selected, Citrix plans to eventually offer management solutions for other enterprise digital assistants. Alexa is first up simply because Alexa has existing APIs Citrix can use for integration into XenMobile. But, really it’s not difficult to see why Alexa might get picked over others: Amazon already has wide Alexa adoption on the consumer side and is now focusing on adding Alexa into any device they can, to increase adoption on the enterprise side.

Eventually, Milind says Citrix hopes to integrate digital assistants into Citrix products and offer more than just management capabilities.

As digital voice assistant adoption grows, so too will the need for corresponding management and security solutions; Citrix is the first offering that’s come up, but you can be sure that others are in the works.