Amazon's Echo Home-Automation Device Signals Emerging Opportunities, And Serious Threats, For Solution Providers

Amazon's decision to open the technology that enables the voice-recognition capabilities of Echo, the smart-home device that hit the wider market this week, to outside developers signals both emerging opportunities and potential threats for the channel, according to several AWS partners.

The brain of Amazon's new Internet-of-Things device is called Alexa, a cloud-based artificial intelligence that responds to voice commands. Amazon said Thursday that it not only will make available a kit that partners can use to take advantage of Alexa's advanced speech recognition capabilities and link to its backend cloud services, but that it also has dedicated $100 million to invest in companies that are developing such devices.

While the Echo currently targets the consumer market, it won't be long before the device and its progeny find their way onto business networks, according to Eric Rockwell, president and CIO of CentrexIT, an MSP based in San Diego, Calif., that partners with Amazon Web Services.

[Related: Internet Of Things Might Be Greatest Risk To Security, Privacy: Sophos Researcher]

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"We're managing networks that are going to add these devices over the next five years, and if we don’t figure out how to manage and control them, we're going to create vulnerabilities and miss out on opportunities," Rockwell told CRN.

Rockwell expects the Echo to get a slow start in the market, with adoption moving at a measured pace.

But it won't be long before the device becomes a standard feature of the workplace, with businesses putting them on the same networks that run production servers hosting sensitive data.

For that reason, the first opportunity for the channel will be to secure the devices, Rockwell said. Target was breached when an HVAC vendor installed controls that allowed hackers to access customer data across the retailer's entire network, he said, illustrating the dangers of improperly secured IoT devices.

Smart solution providers "are going to take advantage of those new tools and create a useful business monitoring practice around them, generating additional revenue by applying additional management value and security value while going into this new IoT frontier," Rockwell said.

And those who ignore the technology will eventually find it dragging down their businesses by saddling them with security problems. Within five years, every solution provider will have addressed the IoT security issue, but those that wait will miss out on a chance to drive revenue in the meantime, he said.

"After we have a plan to secure and manage, we can start really taking advantage of the technology and figuring out how to integrate it into other business systems and actually provide real business value," Rockwell said.

Jamie Begin, CEO at RightBrain Networks, an Amazon partner based in Ann Arbor, MIch., told CRN that the Echo is positioned to play an important role in Amazon's Internet-of Things strategy, which ties directly into the AWS cloud, where all the back-end data aggregation and processing for the device takes place.

That will create a whole new line of business for AWS specialists.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see AWS eventually introduce a partner program specifically for IoT that's focused on helping customers go to market jointly with both the Echo and AWS," Begin said.

Kevin RisonChu, director of systems and infrastructure at Mirum Agency in San Diego, a developer of digital media services built atop Amazon's cloud, said of Amazon's decision to make Alexa available to outside developers: "It makes sense, as this is where everyone is going."

Partners must familiarize themselves with those technologies, he said, because they very well could augment the products and services they have to offer their clients, and thus drive new business.

RisonChu said he hasn't yet seen clients request such capabilities from the channel business side of his company. But he said the flood of IoT products that will be coming to the market present "an interesting development," especially for the company's Innovation Group, which employs cutting-edge technologies to create unique marketing campaigns for its clients.

"Integration could get tricky, though, as there doesn’t seem to be one dominant player in the space. So whatever we do, it will probably be locked into one provider only," RisonChu said.