As a long-time reviewer, I get invited to a lot of press conferences and demo events. A few days ago, I was at a "smart home" demo that had a number of vendors with products that were Internet-connected. The Internet of Things is one of this year’s hot buzzwords, and there were some interesting products there, but one of the things that stood out was a comment made by one of the demo people about accounting.

He had an Amazon Echo hooked up along with his product. If you aren’t familiar with the Echo, it’s a small cylindrical speaker that’s voice-activated. You’ve probably seen it on TV with a user saying something like “Alexa, turn on the living room lights.” The Echo, and the smaller Dot model are connected to Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service over the Internet and listen for your voice commands to perform an operation with other internet-connected devices in your home or office. When the gentleman noticed my Accounting Today affiliation, he joked about interfacing the Echo with an accounting application — in essence, voice-augmented accounting.

Augmented reality is something that’s starting to pick up steam, but it’s been around for quite some time in various forms. The heads-up displays in aircraft and in high-end cars are an example of augmenting the reality that we see when gazing out of the windshield or cockpit. So is the night-vision display that some of the more expensive cars have offered for several years that project an image of objects and animals you might not otherwise see at night.

Not so funny
He was joking, but voice input to your accounting system is coming, possibly soon. I’m far from the first person to think it’s not a bad idea. Of course, voice input does have some limitations in this particular application. You’re not going to read off dollar-and-cent amounts in write-up — the potential for errors due to being misunderstood is just too great for this to be practical any time in the near future.

Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo Photo: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

But using voice commands to input parameters and run a report like a GL or set of financials is not only doable, but with the APIs already available from Amazon, not all that difficult for a skilled coder to implement.

And I can think of a number of other scenarios where voice input might be useful: Consider time and billing when you need to capture the time spent on a particular task for a specific client. Think how easy it would be to just say, “Alexa, I’m starting write-up for Mrs. Smith.” Then tell the voice device when you’re done with that task and move onto the next.

Another application I can envision is a voice time clock. “This is Ted clocking in” at the start of the work day and “Ted Clocking out” at the end (with appropriate ins and outs for lunch, if applicable) would work as well as more expensive time clocks. One hitch for this particular application is that Alexa isn’t currently capable of doing biometric voice recognition, which makes this particular application impractical right now (though in reality, someone clocking in and out for another person by voice isn’t any different from them using another person’s timecard with a time clock). But given how voice printing as a biometric marker has been done for years, it’s not out of the realm of imagination that this capability would be added to AVS in the future.

Amazon isn’t the only vendor selling this type of technology. Google has a similar voice assistant device called Google Home. And this voice technology is starting to appear in other products such as a wireless Bluetooth speaker from JAM Audio. They are sending one for me to play around with, so hopefully I’ll have a better idea of how voice actually fits in with “smart” connected technology.

And, of course, I’ll share my findings with you when I do.

Ted Needleman

Ted Needleman

Ted Needleman has been covering technology for more than 30 years, writing frequently on software, hardware, and related subjects. He was previously editor-in-chief of Accounting Technology.