Speech Technology Roundup for November 2010 – Eyes on Nuance

While many eyes were on unified communications and collaboration this month, and speech technologies are certainly part of that, speech held its own for announcements in November too. Just taking a look at Nuance alone, there were quite a few. This didn’t even include the tasty, but so far false rumor that Apple was acquiring Nuance. This came about when Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, misspoke at an event, mentioning that Apple had acquired Nuance. It created quite a stir and a bump in Nuance’s stock price.

Despite the “rumor”, Nuance was quite busy in November, boasting several announcements across the company’s product lines. Nuance added another mobile device to the customer list by announcing that Nuance’s natural language voice technology is behind the new Genius Button and Hands-Free mode innovations on T-Mobiles’ myTouch 4G phone, which will allow consumers to speak, receive and send text messages completely by voice, by pressing a button and saying “Turn Hands-Free Mode on,”. This turns on Bluetooth capabilities, providing complete hands free use. While this wasn’t a big announcement, I’m all for it.

Nuance’s Healthcare division announced an outsourced transcription service – Nuance Transcription Services, which expands their clinical transcription services portfolio. This draws upon resources they received through the company’s acquisition of Outsourcing Solutions, Inc. and Encompass Medical Transcription Inc. They also introduced PowerScribe 360, which is an advanced radiology reporting and communications platform that combines the best capabilities of PowerScribe and RadWare into a unified solution. Nuance claims that 1/3 of all radiologists in the country now use PowerScribe. Also in the radiology area, Nuance announced collaboration with a privately held company – Montage Healthcare Solutions, that does search and analytics on radiology reports, to improve the ability to search radiology reports. Hmmm. Any time I see privately-held company and Nuance in the same paragraph I smell mergers and acquisitions, but I digress.

Nuance had several mobile applications announcements too. These included saying that Nuance technology is behind the voice-to-text on the new Ask for iPhone application from Ask.com, and that Nuance Dragonmobile technology is behind the new price check for Amazon application for the IPhone as well.

Another announcement that I really liked, although it was also not earth shattering, was Nuance’s announcement that they will be working with WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media, to improve the quality of close captioned media. A US Department of Education-funded project, this effort seeks to improve the close-captioning of real-time news programming for the hearing impaired. Nuances’ contribution will be using the company’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking technology as the basis for developing customized language processing, data analysis, and benchmarking tools for the project. As a long time proponent for using speech technologies to improve accessibility, I’m all for this one too.

Although not a formal announcement, last week I also spoke with Nuance on how the company is extending Nuance on Demand to include extensions for CTI and ACD, essentially giving Nuance the capabilities of hosting entire contact centers rather than just self-service. This solution includes speech self-service, intelligent routing, screen pops, and fully-featured ACD capabilities. Nuance has paid particular attention to extending their goal of improving the caller experience by providing capabilities such as having the self-service “agent” continue interacting with the caller while the caller is in queue, and populating the agent screen with call context when the caller requests to be transferred to an agent.

Nuance has seen 98% growth in its hosted on-demand customer service applications in the past year, with about half of new customers moving over to Nuance from other hosted service providers. Nuance’s hosted offering is now processing over 2 billion minutes annually, with just self service alone. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that Nuance is now making the foray into hosting the entire contact center. It makes sense from the standpoint that they have had pretty significant success in hosting, and the fact that growth in virtual contact centers in general is growing exponentially across the industry.

This is a good thing for existing Nuance customers who choose to move the contact center to Nuance because they will get better end-to-end analytics capabilities if they choose to do so. It is also a good solution for adding on remote offices or remote agents, and lends itself well to a hybrid approach as well, as Nuance can overlay a CTI adapter onto a Nortel or Avaya contact center and get the intelligence they need to route calls to a Nuance contact center agent or one of the others, for example. It will be interesting to see how competing vendors react to this, however.

We are at a cherry picking time in the contact center industry right now. It is a decade past when we churned a lot of the installed base because of the millennium change, there is a huge installed base of systems out there that are getting to end of life, and hosted solutions are now a common choice. Not to mention the churn that is being caused by consolidation, such as we have seen with Avaya and Nortel. So, all companies that have moved into the virtual contact center space, including Nuance, are in a good spot to capitalize on the chance to win contact centers over to their offerings. One caveat, Nuance isn’t going into the “hosted contact center” wherein they provide agents, just agent management applications.

As an additional proof point of the move to the cloud, Five9, an on-demand contact center software provider, also announced the availability of a speech self-service offering in the cloud in November too. Within Release 8 of their Virtual Contact Center product line, Five9 customers can now add IVR as an integrated or standalone product.

Finally, I had originally set out to do one November roundup of speech announcements, but Nuance has just been too busy this month to bury them in a bigger blog. I’ll blog about the others shortly.

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