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Speech Tech for Enterprise... With a Caveat or Two: Page 2 of 3

Alexa for Business and Spark Assistant
Among the well-known enterprise contenders vying for attention are Amazon, for Alexa for Business; and Cisco, for Spark Assistant.



Amazon Echo Dot

In November 2017, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced it was taking its consumer-oriented Alexa virtual assistant to business school, revealing Alexa for Business, a fully managed service aimed at allowing companies to deploy Echo devices at scale throughout the workplace. As reported at the time, AWS is targeting improved meeting experiences, backed up by integrations with the likes of Cisco, Crestron, and Polycom for their in-room conferencing systems, RingCentral for its cloud-based meetings, Microsoft for Office 365 and on-premises Exchange servers, and Google with G Suite.


The power of voice isn't to be ignored, as Amazon CTO Werner Vogels said in introducing Alexa for Business. "It's the natural way of interacting with your systems, ... [and] it's the first disruption by the deep learning capabilities of the tools we're giving you." The next-generation of systems will be built using conversational interfaces, he asserted.

Amazon and its partner ecosystem certainly aren't alone in this belief, and despite this being early days for speech enablement of business processes "when AWS puts its voice to a cause, we've got to listen up," as No Jitter editor Beth Schultz wrote at the time.

Cisco announced its AI-powered, meetings-oriented Spark Assistant around the same timeframe as AWS made its enterprise move, relying on technology from MindMeld, a May 2017 acquisition. The goal is to make Spark Assistant, which will move into Spark Room endpoint field trials next month, really good at helping users set up meetings with coworkers, invite people to meetings, share documents, and such, Timothy Tuttle, CTO of Cisco's Cognitive Collaboration Group, and former CEO and founder of MindMeld, told me in a recent interview.


Tim Tuttle demoing Spark Assistant at Cisco event for press/analysts


These are skills, of course, that consumer-oriented voice assistants like Siri and Google Assistant "have no idea about," Tuttle added. An enterprise voice assistant needs to know about "things like who are your coworkers, what meetings you've had recently, what are all the meeting rooms and shared spaces that might be available in the future for a meeting. Maybe the assistant even has access to a company file system or Box folder, and based on that it will have the ability to find documents that may be helpful."


Long term – 10 years out or so -- Tuttle said he envisions Spark Assistant becoming even more helpful, not just setting up meetings but taking notes, circulating materials, and making sure all collaboration equipment is working properly.