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Cisco to ‘Tuck In’ Voice AI from Voicea

Cisco this week announced its intent to acquire privately held Voicea, an early voice AI market entrant, for an undisclosed amount -- a classic acquisition tuck-in for the company.
The Voicea real-time voice AI engine provides automated speech recognition, transcription services, voice searching, meeting highlights, and action items. Among an increasingly crowded field for tools of this sort, Voicea’s strength is its Enterprise Voice Assistant (EVA), which is a smarter version of most transcription tools in that it uses an algorithm able to understand words unique to a company. The algorithm to find custom words isn’t fully automatic but it does provide recommendations that a company can then confirm. This is a significant improvement over having to decide on keywords and then enter them manually. In verticals like healthcare and legal, which use so many industry-specific words, this feature alone can be invaluable.
Cisco obviously didn’t buy Voicea to be a standalone product. The real value will come from Voicea’s integration into Webex and how it can further Cisco’s cognitive collaboration story. Webex Meetings and products like it enable colleagues to meet, collaborate, and get work done. The problem with most meetings is that capturing the full value is near impossible. Participants can take pictures of whiteboards and other physical mediums to retain information, but with voice much of the value is lost unless someone is diligently taking notes.
Cisco will integrate Voicea into the Webex portfolio to automate the process of creating real-time transcripts that can unlock the value kept in voice interactions. That’s just the starting point for Cisco and, as they say in infomercials… “But wait, there’s more.” Other areas of integration include:
  • Video analytics -- Cisco has shown numerous Webex demos in which it’s able to tag video participants with their identities. The combination of Voicea and video analytics will enable Webex to understand who is talking and provide the ability to “voice tag” individuals. This can make a big difference in meetings with several people.
  • Accompany -- The Accompany dataset comprises external information about meeting participants, surfacing data such as place of employment and professional background. Voicea will make it possible to add meeting minutes and key transcript information to a profile, thus providing another level of intelligence to Accompany.
  • Translation -- Cisco has been working on real-time translation capabilities for some time now. Mixing transcripts and translation is a no-brainer, as it will let anyone, in any language, understand what was said in meetings and quickly capture the value.
From a user standpoint, Voicea is dead simple to use. Users simply invite EVA to a meeting and the transcription automatically starts. The transcription is available in real-time in the Web application; for later review, with searching available, a company can archive the transcriptions, too. The automation is critical in that it takes the onus of remembering to hit “Record” off the user.
Via a recently launched a mobile client, users can control the transcription services. During a meeting, users can view live transcriptions, record key highlights, set up action times, and see the conversation inbox all from their phones. The mobile app also highlights key portions of conversations and summarizes meetings before later review.
With the addition of Voicea, Cisco should be able to deliver Webex customers a wealth of new capabilities and accelerate teamwork and collaboration. The victors in the digital wars will be those companies that are able to make the best decisions in as short a time as possible, and now collaborative teams will be able to work with speech interactions.
In addition, Cisco will bring a level of security and privacy to EVA that Voicea would have had trouble achieving on its own. Over the past five years, Cisco has been obsessed with ensuring the highest levels of security for Webex, and that diligence will extend to this service.
Cisco said it expects to close the purchase this quarter, which began on Aug. 1. Voicea will become part of the Webex portfolio led by Sri Srinivasan, SVP and GM. With Voicea, Cisco has the potential to take cognitive collaboration to the next level, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next with it.