Alexa Skill

What is Alexa?

Alexa is a virtual personal assistant from Amazon. Similar in spirit to offerings from Apple (Siri), Microsoft (Cortana) and Google (Assistant), you can speak to these personal assistants and ask them to read the weather report, play a song or tell you a joke.

What truly sets Amazon's Alexa apart from the other personal assistants, however, is that it provides an API that programmers (like us) can use to define new skills for Alexa — teaching it new tricks.


A New Trick: “Ask Finite Wisdom”

Finite Wisdom has developed a new skill for Alexa that allows it to connect to Harvest, the time tracking application that we use to track the number of hours we bill each day to each of our clients. With this new skill in place, one of our clients can have a conversation like the following with Alexa:

  • Alexa, what time is it?

  • Alexa, what's the weather going to be today?

  • Alexa, open Finite Wisdom

  • Which client would you like to discuss?

  • ACME Industries

  • What is the authorization code for ACME Industries?

  • (authorization code)

  • What can I tell you about the hours that Finite Wisdom has billed to ACME Industries?

  • How many hours did they bill last week?

  • How many hours did they bill last month?

  • How about last year?

  • That's all for Finite Wisdom

  • Alexa, open Pandora please

It is important to realize that the answers to the "how many hours did you bill" questions are determined on the fly by connecting to Harvest and performing the appropriate calculation. If one had asked the question "how many hours did you bill today", then the answer would change as the day progressed!

Lastly, our new skill will generate what is known as skill cards. A card is a written version of the answers that the skill generated so that you can go back and review them at any time. The cards appear appear in Alexa's companion app. The app is available for for iOSAndroid and the web.

Click to enlarge

How can I see this in action?

Well, if you've got an Amazon Echo of your own, you can try it yourself. If not, then watch the video of the exact conversation listed above, along with Alexa's answers to each question.

Try it yourself


Use ACME Industries for the client name and foxtrot alpha india 9 for the authorization code.

Watch the video