Speech Tech for Enterprise... With a Caveat or Two

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With some technologies, sometimes it feels like you snap your fingers and they're everywhere. This is how it's been with consumer-focused speech technologies -- suddenly, all my friends seem to have Amazon Alexa or Google Home voice-activated assistants. My younger sister, a proud new owner of an Apple Watch 3, now regularly confuses me into thinking she's talking to me when she's really speaking into her wrist, dictating a text for Siri to send on her behalf. Even I've begun to shift my behavior away from text searches and toward voice queries through Google Assistant.

But as we know all too well, the enterprise market is a different beast than the consumer world. Are speech technologies ready to be put to work, at work? That's the question we're aiming to answer next month at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2018 in our new Speech Technologies track, and elsewhere throughout the program.

How Enterprises Think About Speech

Activity around speech technology is rampant, but when it comes to the enterprise, speech tech is still fairly immature. As we've previously seen with the consumerization of IT in other technology areas, enterprises today are interested in learning how they can apply speech technologies to deliver real business value, whether that be through the application of enterprise-focused voice assistants like Alexa for Business and Cisco Spark Assistant, or through the application of natural language processing (NLP) to turn voice interactions into structured data for analysis.

A sweet spot for speech technologies within the enterprise today is in facilitating customer transactions, such as making a payment or checking into a flight, said Robert Harris, president of UC consulting firm Communications Advantage and moderator of the upcoming Enterprise Connect session, "Are Speech Technologies Ready for the Enterprise?" For such use cases, speech technology may actually provide better service than a human, he added.

"As much as people say a live person is always better, there are some businesses -- like banking -- where you [often] really just want to talk to a machine and get it done."

Outside customer-facing operations, applications of speech technology for business users tend to focus around productivity, collaboration, and workflows to improve the meeting experience, Jon Arnold, principal at J Arnold & Associates, told me in a recent phone briefing. More and more, they're exploring the cool things they're able to do with voice now, and are starting to realize they can use voice in ways they couldn't before, he added. Arnold will be presenting an Enterprise Connect tech tutorial on speech technologies on Monday, March 12, at 8:00 a.m. ET. Eventually, we'll see less use of PCs, no use of phones, and more use of Alexa on desks, he added. (Incidentally, I've seen his presentation, and if your enterprise is trying to get its arms around speech tech, trust me, this is one session you won't want to miss.)

But, he noted, the speech technology space is particularly messy, comprising everything from voice recognition to NLP, speech-to-text transcription, text-to-speech, and voice analytics. And within each of these subcategories, a variety of providers is vying for mindshare, promising unique differentiators and applications. That makes sorting out what's what a bit of a challenge.

Click to next page for a closer look at Alexa for Business and Cisco Spark Assistant.