Editor's Note: As of November 2017, developers can build skills for the enterprise using the Alexa Skills Kit and Alexa for Business from Amazon Web Services. Learn more.
Back in January, Alexa shared the keynote stage with Acumatica CEO Jon Roskill at the Acumatica Summit 2017 in San Diego, California. Acumatica is a leading innovator of cloud ERP and CRM solutions with customers around the globe. With them was Ajoy Krishnamoorthy, head of Acumatica’s Cloud Platform Division, who showed conference attendees Alexa clearly has a head for business.
Krishnamoorthy demonstrated his first Alexa skill, a proof of concept integrating Alexa with Acumatica’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). He first asked, “Alexa, ask ERP News who is the fastest-growing cloud ERP?” Alexa wisely answered, “Acumatica Cloud ERP." But the real proof was yet to come:
Krishnamoorthy: Alexa, ask Acumatica how many laptops we have in stock?
Alexa: Inventory item Acer laptop computer found. There are 420 inventory items in stock in location retail storage…
Later in the keynote, Alexa allowed Krishnamoorthy to reorder items that were reported as out of stock. Clearly, Alexa is ready to do more than take dictation.
Voice Technology Has a Place in Business
Complex business processes like controlling a manufacturing line require ERP solutions like Acumatica Cloud ERP. Built completely for the cloud, Acumatica offers its product via a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model to which customers subscribe to run their businesses.
Acumatica is also a technology company. Its core platform, the Acumatica Cloud XRP Platform, provides the fundamental framework, SDK, and APIs on which its SaaS offerings are built. The company is always looking at technologies that drive new ways to consume data and present it back to users. Those include machine learning, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing—all capabilities that Alexa provides. And since Acumatica runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS), it was only natural Krishnamoorthy experiment with how Alexa could extend ERP functionality with voice.
“We used our existing REST API in integrating Alexa with the Acumatica Cloud ERP,” he says. “We’re based in Bellevue, Washington—not too far from Amazon. We work very closely with the AWS team on technology incubation projects. Alexa is one of those projects.”
Building Voice Means Identifying the Right Use Cases
An ERP has different layers of information security to verify a user’s identity (authentication) and the rights to access certain data (authorization). Because of this, Krishnamoorthy identified two simple use cases:
Checking Available Inventory
Imagine a worker assembling a machine and seeing they are running out of bolts. The person has to stop, cleanse greasy hands, find and log into a terminal, and check the available inventory. Or think of a shoe salesman you approach to ask for a certain shoe in a certain size. That person has to put down the stack of boxes he or she had been carrying, go to the stock room, check the inventory, then look to see if it’s actually in stock.
How much productivity could be regained if, instead, they just asked Alexa for availability and physical location of these items?
Ordering Replacement Inventory
What if Alexa reports the item you requested is running low or out of stock? The next use case is to order more: "Alexa, ask Acumatica to order 20 XYZ sneakers in size 10."
Should every employee have the authority to place an order? No. But Krishnamoorthy explains that in an ERP-ordering workflow, such a request would initiate an workflow for a manager’s approval rather than placing the order itself.
After identifying the two intents, the utterances, and the responses Alexa would give, building the actual skill was simple. When Alexa parses a command, it passes it to Krishnamoorthy’s listener on Acumatica’s https endpoint. That application, in turn, calls one of Acumatica’s REST APIs to retrieve the data and translate it into a response Alexa can read to the user.
Build a Skill, Get a Shirt
Inspired by Acumatica's innovation? Start building your own voice experience with Alexa. The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) enables developers to build capabilities, called skills, for Alexa. ASK is a collection of self-service APIs, documentation, templates, and code samples that make it fast and easy for anyone to add skills to Alexa.
Developers have built more than 10,000 skills with ASK. Explore the stories behind some of these innovations, then start building your own skill. Once you publish your skill, mark the occasion with a free, limited-edition Alexa dev shirt. Quantities are limited.