I love APIs. Now, I’m no developer, but I’ve worked in pre-sales engineering long enough to pick up some basic scripting, so I appreciate the capabilities that APIs provide. This allows me to stand on the shoulders of those god-like developers who have created a functionality that I couldn’t create on my best day. Suddenly, I can invoke amazing capabilities via API from just a few lines of hobbled together code.
As it happens, I’m an administrator for my Syncplicity account, and it turns out that many of those administration tasks have APIs available. I also have a digital assistant, Alexa, who, I recently discovered, can learn custom Skills, including using APIs. Eager to experiment, I began creating my first Alexa Skills with the intention of having my digital assistant manage my Syncplicity account.
What can you do with Alexa Skills?
You can play music from a myriad of providers, get answers to questions such as “What’s the weather?”, turn off the lights, make announcements throughout your home, even question if a lock is in place in your house. It seems like anything is possible, but I wanted to start with something simple, such as giving me information about my Syncplicity account.
Managing Syncplicity with Alexa
A colleague pointed out that Alexa isn’t particularly good at handling technical phrases, so managing Users, Groups and Policies within my account would likely not be possible. Challenge accepted!
Rather than trying to use technobabble, I decided to design my Alexa Skills around simple administration tasks using plain English phrases. The goal is to provide a “hands-free” experience to managing Syncplicity. For example, currently, to determine if a user exists within my Syncplicity account, I have to log in to my administration portal, navigate to the “Users” section, then scroll, search or filter for that user. Why not just ask Alexa to do it for me?
I created a basic Alexa Skill, setting the invocation words to “My Administrator” so that I could ask, “Alexa, ask My Administrator to do something.” Within this Skill, I used the GET USERS API for Syncplicity. This API returns a full list of all the users in the account. I can use these results to provide Alexa with details about the users or calculate a total. This should validate the possibilities of hands-free administration with nothing needed but an Echo device. Oh look, there’s one right on my desk…
Using the My Administrator Skill
“Alexa, ask My Administrator to count users.” Remarkable! Alexa replies that there are 25 users in my account. The dream of “hands-free administration” has just become a reality. Also, if you have the Alexa App installed on your smartphone or tablet, it will display a “card” with the results of your question. In this case, the Alexa App on my smartphone tells me that “My Administrator says there are 25 users in my account.” Very nice!
Moving on to the next step, I ask, “Alexa, ask My Administrator to list users.” Alexa replies, “Hello Claudio, here are the users in your account…” and proceeds to list the first name and last name of each user in the account.
To make the skill more friendly, I kept the conversation and API session open so that further requests could be made without having to start over. Now, following the completion of a request, Alexa will ask, “Would you like anything else?” and wait for a reply.
After adding the GET GROUPS API and GET POLICY SETS API to the Alexa Skill, I can now ask for a count or a list, of my Users, Groups and Policies at any time, within a single conversation with Alexa.
Not bad for a start. Next, I’ll move on to adding a “welcome” and “help” option to the Alexa Skill. After that, well, the world is my oyster. Now, where is that Oyster API exactly?
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