The voice of enterprise efficiency


Jason Meyers

Speech-recognition software developer Nuance (Nasdaq: NUAN)--the company behind the Siri personal assistant who lives inside the iPhone from Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and helps famous people like Martin Scorcese navigate Manhattan traffic--is taking its talents to the enterprise communication sector.

Nuance's new offering, released this week, is named Nina, and is designed to leverage Nuance's speech recognition, text-to-speech and voice biometrics technology to help address companies' customer service concerns.

It will be interesting to see how enterprises embrace the capability for their customer service purposes, given their historical reluctance to wholly embrace mobility within their own IT environments (think of the headaches of BYOD). But the fact that the Nina app is designed to be embedded in customer-facing solutions certainly boosts its chances--particularly if it gives enterprises the ability to cut down on traditionally costly customer service labor.

Speaking on Nuance's earning's call earlier this week, Nuance CEO Paul Ricci was confident about the enterprise reception of Nina:

"The interest in our on-demand solutions over the last few months in enterprise, and in particular the interest for our biometrics solutions and for the enterprise virtual assistant, have been extremely strong," Ricci said, according to ZDnet's coverage. "Internally we view the reception among beta customers to our Nina solution as really quite exceptional."

The other remaining variable is how end customers will react to a voice recognition app--a question that is tied directly to how well the app works. (I haven't used Siri, so I can't offer an opinion on its performance. But Scorsese seems to like it, and I like his films, so that's a good sign.) People traditionally do not have much patience for voice recognition when it comes to customer service, so you have to wonder if the next sign of customer frustration will be people yelling "zero" rather than frantically pressing it as they try to get to human assistance.

Nuance, however, is confident that the enterprise world is ready for Nina: "For the financial services industry in particular, you might imagine customers using the system to find out the status of their accounts--their balances, flows that they are expecting to monitor, transactions that they want to perform, insurance payments they want to make, and so forth--all using a mobile device that is very voice-centric but has other modalities of interaction to help complement that," Ricci said.

Customer service is just a start. It's fairly easy to extrapolate how enterprises in different sectors might re-imagine how Nina could be used for their own custom purposes—both in customer-facing scenarios and even in equipping their own mobile workforces with new capabilities, perhaps. And if it works for them, perhaps that success will help boost the confidence of enterprise IT pros in mobile solutions and open the door to other ways mobility can help make their overall communications environments more efficient. --Jason Meyers