Amazon's partnership with WeWork to test Alexa for Business, its voice assistant technology designed for business users, has come to a halt, less than a year after Amazon promoted the co-working space start-up as one of its earliest flagship customers.
The pilot, which made Alexa-powered voice devices available in conference rooms at WeWork's New York headquarters, only lasted for about two months before being paused earlier this year, according to a person familiar with the project. The service was intended to allow WeWork employees to reserve conference rooms or adjust room temperatures by simply talking to the Alexa-powered device.
It's unclear why the partnership was suspended, and whether WeWork will test it again in the future.
Alexa for Business's quick fade out at WeWork points to the challenges Amazon faces as it tries to take its Alexa voice-assistant beyond its core home consumer market to the massive business software space. Early partners of Alexa for Business said it could take at least a few more years before voice technology becomes more widely used in the workplace, as it still needs to earn the trust and recognition of business customers.
"People see voice as a viable interaction method at work," said Ajoy Krishnamoorthy, VP of platform strategy at Acumatica, a business software company that has been an Alexa for Business partner since last year. "But we need to build the confidence in the industry that technology like this can work with the right security — sometimes you have to go slow to go fast."
Acumatica's Alexa-based app, or "skill," hasn't officially launched even after being introduced almost a year ago. Krishnamoorthy said Acumatica has been patient with its official roll out as it's been refining and improving certain features, like security and authorization, based on early customer feedback. Acumatica's Alexa skill is expected to launch publicly early next year.
"It's one thing to have a skill that checks the weather and news, where the data is not as classified," he said. "But when you're dealing with business applications, you've got to have the right set of authorizations built in."
Alexa for Business was introduced at last year's AWS re:Invent conference and could come under the spotlight again at this year's event, which kicked off on Monday.
WeWork declined to comment. Amazon did not return requests for comment.