EC Tutorial: 3 Big Ideas for Speech Tech

With Enterprise Connect 2018 fast approaching, you're no doubt doing a lot of planning to prioritize which meetings to schedule and which sessions to attend. You can't do it all, and this is my moment to draw your attention to the Speech Technology track, a new addition to the EC lineup.

In this inaugural year, the Speech Tech track may not yet be on your radar. I'm hoping this post will change that, especially since I'm kicking off the program with a tutorial on enterprise speech technology on Monday, March 12, at 8:00 a.m. If you like what I have to say, you'll probably want to attend more sessions for this track, and that will help validate the move to put speech tech on the program. I'm only covering the basics, and to get a broader picture for what the Speech Tech track will cover, please read this earlier overview post.

To get you in the mood for my session, here are three big ideas I'll be covering. You may not leave the session a full-fledged speech expert, but you'll definitely understand the opportunity in the enterprise, what's different about speech in 2018, and what you really need to be thinking about to become more speech-centric.

1.     Speech Tech Is Enterprise-Ready Now

The starting point to get your attention is the fact that artificial intelligence (AI)-driven speech recognition accuracy has now reached 95%, as reported by Google, Microsoft, and other leading players. That means speech recognition is finally on par with human accuracy. That's a critical threshold to have crossed, and with such companies ready to take speech technology into the enterprise, you'd better be ready, too. You can now seriously consider automated forms of speech for your enterprise-grade applications. While this has major positive implications for customer-facing communications, my focus in this tutorial is strictly on speech technology's use with the enterprise, by business users.

Being a short tutorial, I'll briefly address the underlying technologies making this possible, namely natural language processing (NLP), machine learning (ML), speech analytics, and cloud computing. Each has a distinct role to play, and when taken together, the "solution" falls under the broad -- and overused -- AI umbrella. Not all enterprise speech applications require AI, but this is definitely the engine creating new forms of value for everyday workflows and collaboration.

Stepping back, I'll also talk about speech in the broader context of how the role of voice is shifting in the workplace. When wearing a legacy hat, the inclination is to view voice strictly as an in-person mode or for telephony. These modes of person-to-person communication aren't going away, but the emerging value proposition for voice will be for person-to-machine communication, and this is where speech recognition really needs to be enterprise-ready – as it now is.

2.     What's Different for 2018?

You may be hearing the term "new voice," and for good reason. Basically, with all these technologies maturing in powerful ways, the person-to-machine applications for voice open up new forms of engagement. Beyond telephony, we're now starting to see advanced forms of speech-to-text and text-to-speech that go well beyond what legacy applications have long been providing. I'll be reviewing several use cases, as well as those for automatic speech recognition (ASR), such as what we're starting to see with Amazon Echo and more recently, Alexa for Business.

While other EC sessions will cover customer-facing uses of AI (such as The Reboot of Voice: Unified Conversational Engagement Across Devices, Touchpoints), my focus is within the enterprise. In this setting, the use cases will be about improving personal productivity -- such as managing calendars -- or making collaboration easier -- such as using speech commands to optimize audio and video settings in a meeting space.

A healthy pipeline of speech-driven innovation is coming to market, and, importantly, the buying signals are there on the demand side. In the session, you'll hear about some current research showing how end users are receptive to AI and ready to engage with automated communications channels. As digital natives make their way into the workforce, that comfort level is only going to increase, and we're entering a market where the forces of supply and demand seem well-aligned.

Not surprisingly, this means a lot of players are vying for position, and given the wide range of applications for speech, this makes for a messy vendor landscape. We'd need a full session to break down all the layers in this milieu, but I think my overview will provide a manageable framework to understand the various types of players and the value propositions you'll be hearing from them in 2018.

3.     What You Should Be Thinking About

The main takeaway I want to leave attendees with is a proper framework to think about how speech and "new voice" can bring value to the enterprise. I'll be addressing two aspects of this in the tutorial. The starting point is to understand use cases where speech-based applications will have utility, either for improving existing processes or for enabling new capabilities that can make workers more productive.

This may seem elementary at face value, but if you don't understand how AI creates new capabilities, then you won't fully recognize the scope of possibilities. Taking this a step further, I'll raise some philosophical questions that inevitably come with AI that I believe should guide your thinking about how far you should be going down this road.

Secondly, I'll discuss the considerations needed around vendors and making decisions about the type of partner you should be choosing for speech technology. As mentioned, the vendor landscape is messy, and with this technology evolving so rapidly, the choices can quickly become overwhelming. Not only do you have many speech technology providers to choose from, but you also need to be mindful of how interfaces are evolving. AI-enabled speech applications can be used in a variety of environments with different interfaces, some of which are very new, but they reflect how workstyles are changing, especially for digital natives.

Conclusion

With AI now driving innovation for speech, this space is entering a new age of possibility, much of which seemed like science fiction just a few years ago. We're now well beyond IVR, and as speech becomes more "intelligent," the way we work is going to change, and our relationship with computers is going to get a lot more interesting -- and personal. I'll leave it at that, since I really want you to attend my session, and hopefully the rest of the Speech Technology track.

Learn more about Speech Technologies at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Regular Rate or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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