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HipChat gets Alexa integration tool for voice-activated tasks

HipChat is offering through its marketplace an add-on for Amazon Alexa integration. The SoftServe voice bot is aimed at software development teams.

Development consultant SoftServe has introduced an application that lets people use the Amazon Echo personal assistant to perform voice-activated tasks in Atlassian's HipChat team collaboration service.

On Tuesday, HipChat started promoting the VoiceMyBot add-on that connects the collaboration software with the Alexa voice service that powers Echo. Atlassian is offering the SoftServe Alexa integration in its online marketplace.

The Alexa service is not an enterprise product. Today, Amazon uses it as the cloud-based intelligence of the Echo hardware, which the online retailer has built to sell merchandise and services. However, Amazon's Alexa APIs provide third-party developers with the option of using the service for other purposes.

SoftServe has tapped the APIs to build VoiceMyBot features aimed at development teams. Programmers can get the performance status of websites, get notifications on support tickets, deploy source code, and create and send messages. Deploying code is done through integration with the Jenkins open source automation server.

The developer-centric features in the Alexa integration make sense for HipChat, given it is the preferred collaboration tool for development teams.

"Our research shows, so far, that HipChat is largely confined to developer community use," said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill. "Slack and [Cisco] Spark are the two that we see in the larger enterprise market."

Using the SoftServe Alexa integration add-on

A company can connect HipChat to the Alexa service by downloading and installing the VoiceMyBot add-on and configuring its settings for connecting to Jenkins or a Google account.

VoiceMyBot is an open source Alexa integration application that developers can extend with additional services. Doing that requires downloading Amazon's Alexa Skills Kit, which is a collection of self-service APIs, tools, documentation and code samples.

A company willing to put in the time and money could use VoiceMyBot, for example, to let sales and marketing teams retrieve information by making a request through Echo, said Steve Goldsmith, general manager of HipChat.

While such uses have potential, the Alexa service powering Echo today lacks the sophistication to be more than an experiment within the enterprise. The service executes tasks based on a person using specific phrases. Deviating from the prescribed command will stump Alexa.

Atlassian acknowledged Alexa will need to mature before enterprises give it serious consideration. "We do think the ecosystem of voice APIs and voice agents like this is extremely early days right now, but it's definitely going to be a space that large companies like Amazon are going to continue to invest in," Goldsmith said.

Companies investing in voice interfaces will eventually make them more useful by programming better intelligence into them, said Bill Haskins, an analyst at Wainhouse Research LLC in Duxbury, Mass.

"Voice is much more interesting when you start thinking about virtual assistants," Haskins said. "The more the assistant understands about you -- your contacts, your schedule, your projects, your [unified communications and collaboration] tools -- the more voice will make sense."

IBM Watson Workspace

Vendors are making a push toward more intelligence in UC and collaboration tools. Last week, IBM introduced a preview release of Watson Workspace, a team-messaging client that uses the company's Watson cloud-based cognitive computing platform.

Tapping into Watson helps Workspace users organize the voluminous data collected over time within a collaboration application. Watson can categorize the information to help users prioritize it.

Next Steps

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