Branded Virtual Assistants Grabbing a Foothold at Universities

Saint Louis University (SLU) recently introduced 2,300 Amazon Echo Dot assistants to its student living spaces in an effort to make information more readily available on demand.  These devices have been customized to be able to answer specific questions about the university, such as library hours, and there are plans to expand their implementation into classrooms, offices, and meeting rooms.

Currently, the system has 130 custom queries available and SLU is working on more.  The goal is to reduce the time that students, faculty, and staff spend searching for informaiton, especially when that information is simple in nature such as locations of university services or events.

SLU isn't the only university using virtual assistants on its grounds - Arizona State University and Northeastern University have Echo programs - but SLU's program is among the largest deployments to date.  SLU believes that the devices serve to attract more students, and could even be a deciding factor to incoming freshmen making their final college picks.  In fact, SLU's Echo Dot program is just the first in a series of plans to add voice interfaces to the university, all with the goal of improving productivity through instant access to data.

SLU went through some trial and error adopting the Amazon platform, but has seen great results and eager students with their choice.  Students prefer the ease of the Amazon platform and the added functionality of the Alexa for Business platform has made managing the devices much easier for the university.  Given the volume of deployed devices, easy, centralized management is critical.

To address security, the university put the devices on their own dedicated, secure network and students are informed on how to use privacy features.  Plus, the devices are not linked to any specific accounts so there is less worry about compromised accounts.  The downside of this is that popular account-based services such as Spotify are unavailable.  The university plans to introduce individual devices in the future, but only after it has fleshed out a security plan for that use.

The university is still plotting out how best to utilize the technology at its fingertips, but has solid plans for how to improve productivity and access to information as they get more acquainted with their devices.

This article was based on an August 28, 2018 Computerworld.com article by Andrew Finnegan.

Date: 
September 14, 2018

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