Alexa is the virtual assistant voice of the Echo, Amazon’s smart speaker. There are other such devices out there, but I own the Echo and will use it in this blog post for the sake of example.

From the beginning, Amazon set out to put a device in the home that would form a personal relationship with consumer – and like the iPhone’s Siri, Alexa is friendly, ready to be helpful, and funny. Ask Alexa, for example, “Alexa, what should I be for Halloween?” and she replies, “I mean, going as an Echo would be pretty cool. Not that I am biased or anything.” On any given day, I use Alexa to add items to my shopping list, ask about the weather, look up facts or even listen to some create jazz – all at my beck and call, with Alexa sitting on my desk.

While the Echo was built as a consumer device, I cannot help but wonder how long it will be before the virtual assistant becomes as ubiquitous in the workplace as the laptop and the smartphone. Here’s why:

  • Virtual assistants can call friends. Imagine sitting at your desk and saying, “Alexa, call Susan,” and voila – you are connected with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
  • Smart speakers can “drop in” on other people who have the same speaker – essentially, video-conferencing them.
  • Alexa and other virtual assistants are constantly gaining new “skills” or features. They range from playing sounds to playing games, but there are also skills for mindfulness (guided meditation) and fitness.
  • Smart speakers can scour the internet for almost any piece of information, as long as you ask the right question.

How could these features potentially play out in a corporate learning and development context? Consider the following scenarios:

  • Finding formal learning: Say, “Alexa, find me a course on budgeting,” and receive and email of all of the upcoming approved internal and external offerings.
  • On-the-job coaches: Ask, “Alexa, how do I create a pivot table?”, and receive step-by-step instructions on how to create a pivot table.
  • Corporate wellness devices: “Alexa, find me a five-minute meditation.”
  • Curators of informal learning: “Alexa, what is the latest safety data on our product?”

While these applications may to seem to be off on a distant horizon, think about the entire generation of workers that will be entering the workforce who do not know a world without digital assistants.

They are coming. Will Alexa be ready?