Amazon's Echo is making its first moves into the office

Today, $5.5 business software company Atlassian announces that it’s bringing its popular HipChat app to the Amazon Echo family of smart speakers — making HipChat the first chat program available on Echo, and possibly marking a milestone in using virtual assistants at work. 

Most Amazon Echo services (Amazon calls them “skills“) are passive, as in you need to call on Alexa, the devices’ personal digital assistant, before it will do anything. But HipChat on Echo is designed to be active, as well, calling out when certain pre-set conditions are met as well as answering questions.

HipChat General Manager Steve Goldsmith says that Atlassian teams have been testing Echo internally as an alert system when things go wrong: If an Atlassian site or service goes down, the system automatically sends a message into HipChat, which then triggers the Echo to activate and shout an alert at the team.

Here’s a video showing how it works:


The idea, Goldsmith says, is that Atlassian likes to think HipChat is pretty great on the web or smartphone, but you still need to be actively looking at one of your devices to use it. That’s fine most of the time, but in a worst-case scenario, you’re losing time if your top engineer is making coffee instead of looking at his phone. 

“We can’t help you if you’re not staring at one of your screens,” Goldsmith says.

The advantages are a shorter time to respond, even when people aren’t currently staring at their phones. The whole team can ask Echo for updates on HipChat, and hear the answers. Atlassian’s main customer base are developers, so that’s where it starts, but consider this the tip of the iceberg.

Amazon echo commands hipchatAtlassianSome active and passive commands for HipChat’s Amazon Echo integration.

Neutral ground

It’s true that, theoretically, you could wire this into integration like Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana. In Atlassian’s experimentations, though, you’re really using this kind of integration in more of an office setting. And no matter how you slice it, Goldsmith says, it’s really weird to shout commands and updates at a coworker’s laptop or phone.

Instead, Goldsmith says, the Echo is a “neutral piece of hardware.” Put one in the corner of the room, and it’s a team’s communal voice box. In the same way that a family might share an Echo, so too does a software team, Goldsmith says. 

Amazon says the Echo will become a key pillar of its business in the future, with thousands of developers tasked to building and improving it. The existence of the forthcoming Google Home device, a direct Echo competitor, is a big sign that Amazon is on the right track.

While, right now, so much of the Echo’s use is fun and games, the device’s continued popularity, and the overall industry shift towards voice, means that HipChat on Echo could be a sign of things to come.

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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