NEW YORK CITY — Waterloo, On.-based BlackBerry is working with Amazon on a BlackBerry Alexa device that will be secured for use in the enterprise, according to company executives.
In his keynote presentation at the BlackBerry Security Summit Thursday, BlackBerry CEO John Chen said on stage that BlackBerry and Amazon were collaborating on frictionless workflows. Chen said he personally had both Amazon Echo and Google Home devices at his home.
“The industry is crazy about voice, it’s the most natural input,” he said. “We believe the world is going to come together with enterprise and consumer. These devices that sit in your home could become the front point of a workflow engine.”
In an interview, BlackBerry’s Chief Technology Officer Charles Eagan confirmed the partnership was focused on creating a “BlackBerry Alexa” device. When asked about a timeline for the device’s release, he said a Q1 of 2019 release was his best estimate.
Eagan said that some of BlackBerry’s security expertise when it comes to device manufacturing and its management within an organization, will be applied to the product.
“You need to be careful about what you allow it to do,” he said. “If I walk into the boardroom and say ‘Call John Chen’ and it does it, it will be unplugged very quickly.”
A BlackBerry Alexa device for the enterprise will be able to alert administrators if its connections change, he said. For example, if a new unknown Bluetooth connection is detected that could create an alert. There could also be some role-based controls. For example, an employee that might use an Alexa device at home to connect to enterprise applications would lose that access after they left the company.
“Some of this grown-up behaviour is needed as you bring consumer devices into the enterprise,” said Eagan.
He also suggested it could serve as a way to enable multi-factor authentication.
“It’s another data point where you could create value,” he said, but then added, “You have to be suspicious at every step that this has been spoofed.”
The migration of Alexa into the office is just the latest example of consumer devices making the leap to work life, says Nigel Wallis, research vice-president for Internet of Things at IDC Canada. IDC Canada research shows Canadian enterprises are already using voice interfaces – 17 per cent of medium and large organizations were doing so, and another 15.7 per cent indicated they were currently implementing the technology, based on IDC Canada’s IT Advisory Panel survey.
“As we found with the advent of mobile devices and cloud computing, new technology platforms introduce new cybersecurity vectors to attack. Linking consumer-grade electronics like Amazon Echo’s to corporate systems of record introduces new and unexpected vulnerabilities, which in turn is an opportunity for security vendors like Blackberry,” Wallis says. “IDC anticipates that, in the short term, organizations are thinking about how to integrate voice and conversational assistants into the products and services that they sell to consumers and other businesses.”
In November 2017, Amazon announced its Alexa for Business managed service to target the enterprise. It would enable a range of every-day business tasks to be completed by voice but also integrate with business applications including Salesfore, SAP Concur, and Splunk. Amazon is collaborating with Cisco Systems and Polycom on conference-room solutions as well.