4 questions to ask before enabling your Alexa

by Alexis Rothberg, Communications Manager, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

After years of watching fictional storylines about futuristic technologies play out on TV shows and in movies, it’s hard to wrap my head around the fact many of these devices are now a reality.

Today, nearly 20 percent of Americans own and use one or more virtual assistant-enabled devices on a regular basis. Almost four years after Amazon’s debut of its Alexa virtual assistant and Echo smart speaker, virtual assistants from Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft are now offered in a rapidly expanding array of devices.

Can these virtual assistant devices really help make your personal and professional life easier? I decided to take a closer look and determine whether Alexa could really help.

1. What can Alexa and other virtual assistants do for me?

Virtual assistants offer far more than voice commands for tasks you would’ve previously done yourself. You can listen to news you haven’t had time to read while you’re getting ready for work or making dinner at home. In fact, the Association recently launched a flash brief with the latest accounting news on Alexa. You can access the Accounting Brief through your Amazon account or the Alexa app. Just go to settings, then Alexa preferences, and scroll down for flash briefings. Search for “accounting” or “AICPA.”

If you care for an elderly family member or child, you know the importance of checking in on them — especially when they don’t answer their phone. Alexa allows you to do that. You can also monitor your house when you’re on vacation or check in on your vacation house when you’re home. You can let in the dog walker and confirm the door is locked when they leave. Want music? Tell the device what you’re in the mood for (genre, artist, album, etc.) and Alexa will play it.

2. How can Alexa save me time and money?

If you integrate a virtual assistant into your home or office control systems, it can save you money on energy by doing a more efficient job of heating and air conditioning, lighting and even heating water. Although they can’t fully replace a real person, virtual assistants perform many administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments, searching for flights and calling for an Uber or Lyft. Alexa can even make your grocery list and do your online shopping for you.

3. Looking ahead, will Alexa still be relevant?

Virtual assistants started as home and personal devices. Now, they’re expanding into business. Amazon recently rolled out Alexa for Business, and announced a partnership with Marriott to put Alexa-enabled devices into select hotel rooms. So, Alexa may be with you on your next vacation. Other companies like Ford, BMW, Volkswagen and Nissan announced plans to integrate virtual assistants into their cars.

4. Does Alexa come with any risks?

Like any other device that connects to the Internet, Alexa can be at risk for cyberattacks. As implementation of these technologies continues to grow, you’ll want to carefully monitor the device’s security. In a business environment, virtual assistants should be scoped into your organization’s cybersecurity risk management program.

After my research, I decided to embrace this technology and hire Alexa as my virtual assistant. Although, I’m still waiting for the day time travel is a reality. I would love to pick up a sports almanac like the one Marty McFly brought back to 1985 in Back to the Future.