You better watch out AV Pros. Alexa is coming to town!

When my former employer and friend Steve Greenblatt sent me this link about Alexa For Business, my first thought was – game over.

alexaWhen Amazon comes to town, it is usually bad news for anyone not operating at scale. There are a few things Alexa For Business seems to offer that made me worry:

  • Conference Room Voice Control (no more touch panels or control processors)
  • The same out-of-the box experience as the Echo in my living room

Sounds too good to be true, so I had to give it a try (setup is documented below). Guess what?

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I couldn’t get it to work…

Here are the incomplete steps to setting up an Echo or Dot for Alexa For Business with a private skill.

So what do you think?

Does this create opportunity for AV Pros or is it more headache than it is worth?

Create A Room And Configure A Device

  1. Create an AWS account.
  2. Go to your Alexa For Business Dashboard.
  3. Go to Rooms and create a Room.
  4. Under Share Devices, click Setup Devices then download and run the Device Setup tool. Warning to Mac Users: The Device Setup Tool only runs on Windows and needs direct access to the Network Interface of your computer. So if you are running Windows on a virtual machine, it ain’t gonna work ūüôĀ
  5. Create an IAM user for the Device Setup Tool.
    1. In the IAM Management Console, click Users then Add User.
    2. Enter a name for the new user, select Programmatic access and click Next.
    3. In Set permissions select Attach existing policy directly, then select AlexaforBusinessDeviceSetup from the list and click Next.
    4. Click Create User
    5. On the Success Page, note the Access key ID and¬†Secret access key,¬†you’ll need those in a minute.
  6. Back in the Device Setup Tool, enter the Access key ID and Secret access key for the new IAM user you just created. The Device Setup Tool will search the network for Alexa devices in setup mode.
    1. If you already set up your device, you will need to reset it to get it back into setup mode. Use a paper clip to press and hold the reset button on the bottom of the device. Hold the reset button until the light goes orange, then blue. Then wait for the light to turn orange again.
  7. Select your device in the Device Setup Tool and and click Set up Devices.
  8. Enter your Wi-Fi Information and click Connect.
  9. Wait while the device connects to the network and registers with Alexa for Business. Then click Continue to set up more devices or  close the Device Setup Tool if you are done.
  10. Back in the Alexa For Business Dashboard, under Shared Devices, click the Refresh button to see your newly registered device. If your device is there, it is ready to be used with Alexa For Business.

Set Up Skills

  1. Under Skills, click the Alexa Skills Store tab and select Latest Eminem Tweet. Just kidding. You can  search for a skill and enable it here.
  2. If you made a private skill, click the Private skills tab to enable it.
  3. There are a few options when adding skills, so check out this help article to learn more about managing skills.

Invite Users

  1. In the Alexa For Business Dashboard, click Users.
  2. There should be a warning at the top of the page, asking you to create an invitation email on¬† user invitation page. Click on that link and let’s do that now.
  3. In User invitations, click Edit.
  4. Enter your organisation’s name and support email address and click Save.
  5. Go back to Users,¬†click¬†Invite User, enter the user’s information and click¬†Send Invite.

Create A Private Skill

You can find Amazon’s documentation for building a private skill here.

Here is an overview of the steps:

Create A Test Skill with the CLI

  1. Set up (or sign in to) an Amazon Developer account.
  2. Install Node.js on your computer.
  3. Open Terminal (Max) or Command Prompt (Windows).
  4. Install the CLI with the following command in terminal:
    1. npm install -g ask-cli
  5.  Change directory to where you want your new project:
    1. cd theNameOfYourProjectDirectory
  6. Initialize a ASK. You will need to set up your credentials the first time – just follow the directions:
    1. ask init
  7. Create a new project:
    1. ask new
  8. Change to the directory of your new project:
    1. cd nameOfYourNewProject
  9. Deploy the project:
    1. ask deploy [--no-wait]
  10. Create a new Lambda function
    1. Go to (or sign up for) your AWS Console.
    2. Select the Lambda service (you can use the search bar to find it).
    3. Select either US East (N. Virginia) or EU (Ireland), whichever is closest to where your skill will run.
    4. Click Create A Function.
    5. Click on Blueprints, search fro and select alexa-skill-kit-sdk-howtoskill.
    6. Enter a name for your function like testSkillFunction and a role name like testRoleName then click Create Function.
    7. Under Add Triggers click Alexa Skills Kit, then click Add, then click Save.
    8. Copy the ARN URL (at the top right) and save it – we’ll need it soon.
  11. Go to your Amazon Developer Console, select Alexa then Alexa Skills Kit.
  12. Find your skill and click edit.
  13. Click Next twice to get to the Configuration tab.
  14. Select AWS Lambda ARN and paste the ARN URL (from the Lambda function setup) where it says Default under the Endpoint settings.
  15. Test the skill before proceeding. More research to be done here…
  16. Get your skill_id from /.ask/config file of the project create with the CLI (this is a hidden file).
  17. Download the skill manifest with the following command (replace {skill_id} with your skill_id):
    1. ask api get-skill -s {skill_id} > skill_file_name.json
  18. You should have a new file called skill.json in your project directory. Open it and add the following line in the publishingInformation section (you will need to add a comma if you put it at the top of the section):
    1. "distributionMode": "PRIVATE"
  19. Save the file and upload it with:
    1. ask api update-skill -s {skill_id} -f skill.json
  20. Submit the skill with:
    1. ask api submit -s
  21. After the skill is live (which can take up to two hours!) distribute it to an Alexa For Business Organization with:
    1. ask api add-private-distribution-account -s <skillId> --stage live --account-id <id>
  22. Then you can enable your private skill in the Alexa For Business dashboard.

Piece of cake. Right?


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