A quarter of Americans now have an Alexa-enabled device in their home with 52% of smart speaker owners having 2 or more devices in their homes1. The virtual personal assistant market is growing, and it was only fitting for BlackBerry to ponder on the long-term consequences of introducing such devices into our personal lives. The current use cases for such products are quite limited, with most users requesting their assistants for music, search for real-time information and search for factual information2.
Since BlackBerry is a leader in the IoT space, we decided to brainstorm ideas on how smart speakers like the Alexa would be able to permeate outside the walls of the consumer home and into the daily lives of enterprises. We noticed that Amazon had already set up its own Amazon for Business solution, allowing for extended use cases in the workplace. However, these use cases were once again, limited to booking meeting rooms and updating your personal calendar. The real questions had yet to be answered. We wanted to know:
1. What are the real world uses cases for companies that were thinking about implementing smart speaker devices in the workplace?
2. What are the security/privacy issues that need to be resolved for such a device to be acceptable by most companies IT department’s standards?
3. Is the communication path secure when communicating between two endpoints?
4. Is my corporate data safe? Does Amazon have access to my requests?
To answer the last question, it was recently made public that both Amazon and Google have several people employed under them whose job it is to listen to your voice requests3. Any lay person can tell you that no company would want to leave this security gap open. The question for IT departments is really whether or not they trust that Amazon has their best interests at heart when they subscribe an Amazon for Business service.
Our solution that we put together showcases a secure request being made to an endpoint, via the Alexa smart speaker, that allows for your company’s data to completely bypass the Alexa Cloud, thereby providing a secure, functional answer to the aforementioned questions. Using BlackBerry Spark Communications Services, you can build a solution to get readings from your endpoints (a temperature sensor, for example), and have the reading be relayed back to a companion app on your cell phone, or by voice-over-Bluetooth through the connected speaker. Furthermore, the IoT endpoint can trigger a BlackBerry AtHoc alert, alerting the appropriate party to take action based on the temperature change. For example, if your sensor endpoint is placed in a truck that’s carrying milk, and the temperature reading was outside the preset safe threshold, an AtHoc Alert could be sent to the truck driver’s Alexa device alerting him to check the refrigeration settings on their vehicle. Or, if the dispatcher needs to know the reading of the temperature sensor in the truck, they can just ask Alexa for it and they will see the reading in the companion app. This scenario could be applicable to many industries under the IoT spectrum – retrieving sensor readings securely in manufacturing, transportation, etc.
Below is a high-level architecture diagram of this project: