Amazon's Echo Show could disrupt enterprise-class unified communications

Low-cost device will eventually enable workers to connect email, calendars, video and voice calls

Amazon is on the verge of disrupting the enterprise videoconferencing and unified communications markets dominated by Cisco and Avaya with its new Amazon Echo Show device.

Echo Show, announced Tuesday, is being marketed initially to consumers for $230 and will ship on June 28. It works with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant, and features a 7-in. touchscreen display and a 5-megapixel camera for video calls.

Alexa already has potential as a unified communications device that can connect a person's emails and calendar via voice; that capability is being expanded to video with Show.

Amazon will break out in November with an enterprise set of announcements for Echo Show to expand beyond its current focus, Gartner analyst Werner Goertz predicted in an interview. Amazon didn't reply to requests for comment.

Echo Show is likely to be marketed for telemedicine and elderly and home healthcare scenarios, as well as for serving guests in hotels, Goertz said. Last fall, Amazon Alexa, minus the video component, was added to all Wynn Las Vegas hotel rooms, an indication, Goertz said, of business interest in interactive technology.

Goertz was recently involved in a short Echo Show videoconference call set up between Amazon offices in San Francisco and Seattle. There was "zero latency" in the transmission and very high resolution on the video screen, he said. That performance may have been aided by a robust corporate network, but Goertz was unable to evaluate that.

Between now and November, Amazon will need to focus heavily on making sure IT managers see the value of Echo Show and to overcome their worries about the device's privacy and security, he said. Amazon will also need to show that Echo Show can quickly and easily connect to corporate productivity applications.

"One thing that Amazon has underestimated is the backlash from IT pros and CIOs about privacy and confidentiality of data," Goertz said, arguing that current privacy assurances from Amazon aren't solid enough for enterprises. "Amazon doesn't have its act together yet on a privacy statement that's more elaborate and pro-active."

Amazon already has the APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to allow third parties to add applications to Echo Show through Alexa Voice Services. But Goertz conceded that enterprises considering Echo Show for videoconferencing and unified communications could face some problems.

"Speaker authentication is needed on Echo Show, and that's on the road map of Amazon between now and its AWS re-Invent 2017 conference in November," Goertz said.

He explained that with speaker authentication, a company can use voice authentication software to limit authorized parties on a call. "Banks use voice authentication increasingly now," he said.

"You would need to build voice authentication into the backend system to identify you and me so the backend would associate individual user active profiles with an Active Directory services of an enterprise," he said. "That needs to happen, but it ain't there yet."

The issues of connecting Echo Show to enterprise services and apps remain the biggest drawbacks for now, added Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"Enterprises need systems that tie back to their internal infrastructure of apps running their businesses, whether they are in the cloud or on-premise," Gold said. "At this point, I don't know if Amazon has provided enough in the way APIs and SDKs [Software Development Kits] to make it worthwhile for business users."

Nonetheless, Goertz said Amazon's reputation for introducing disruptive technologies and its massive size could challenge networking providers like Cisco and Avaya. Amazon will be able to offer enterprises commodity, low-cost pricing and low-cost operating expenses that companies like Polycom and Cisco don't touch, he argued.

"Established companies in unified communications should be nervous," Goertz said.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld (US)
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