New Players Join the Speech Industry
In a number of recent deals, several speech companies changed ownership, bringing some powerful new players, including Oracle, HP, and Amazon.com, into the industry and piquing the interest of more than a few analysts.
Having players of this caliber, and with such deep pockets, enter the market can only mean good things, many analysts have said. "These acquisitions raise the awareness and visibility of speech," Dan Miller, lead analyst at Opus Research, says.
The most recent of the acquisitions was Oracle's purchase of RightNow Technologies, a provider of cloud-based CRM and interactive voice response solutions, for an estimated $1.5 billion.
With the acquisition, which was announced October 24, Oracle has revitalized its interest in the customer service domain, which for years has been dominated by a handful of companies, including Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, which itself was sold by parent company Alcatel-Lucent to British private equity firm Permira for $1.5 billion in mid-October.
HP also enters the speech technology arena with its acquisition of British firm Autonomy, a provider of speech and data analytics solutions, in a stock transaction estimated to be worth about $12 billion.
Autonomy's software powers more than 25,000 customer accounts from around the world, and, as part of HP, will provide high-value business solutions to help customers manage the explosion of unstructured and structured information.
"We are committed to helping our customers solve their toughest IT challenges. The exploding growth of unstructured and structured data and unlocking its value is the single largest opportunity for consumers, businesses, and governments," Meg Whitman, HP's president and CEO, said in a statement. "Autonomy significantly increases our capabilities to manage and extract meaning from that data to drive insight, foresight, and better decision making."
HP in late November rolled out its first software using technology gained in the Autonomy acquisition (see "HP Marries Vertica and Autonomy").
And in the least publicized of the deals, Amazon.com quietly purchased voicemail-to-text start-up Yap, fueling speculation that it plans to build a speech recognition interface to rival Google Voice and the Siri personal assistant that Apple included as standard equipment in its new iPhone 4S model.
Yap has since shut down its voicemail transcription service, but many expect the company's technology will re-emerge, presumably as Amazon looks to integrate speech recognition into its mobile shopping applications, its Kindle e-readers, and its Kindle Fire tablet computers.
Miller says Amazon's interest in a speech company like Yap "validates the idea that having a voice user interface is going to be very important to e-commerce and retail."
Miller further explains that being able to rapidly respond to customers is critical in the retail space, and companies like Amazon and Apple are now taking notice of speech as a valuable technology to do that. "For companies to compete in e-commerce, they'll need some sort of speech recognition," he says.
And just two weeks after closing its acquisition of VoIP and unified communications technology provider Sipera, Avaya announced that it had acquired Aurix, a provider of speech analytics and audio data mining technology.
Aurix's technologies, which include a phonetic audio search engine, will be incorporated into Avaya's contact center and unified communications portfolios. The first products incorporating the new technology will likely be available in the next month or two, according to Jonathan Varman, an Avaya spokesman.
A key element in the deal was Aurix's ability to not just analyze data but also to place it in context, Varman says.
"Voice interactions represent a vast resource of untapped knowledge," Peter Rogers, CEO of Aurix, said in a statement. "The combination of Avaya Aura and Aurix's speech analytics solutions offer a number of opportunities to create business and customer value that we look forward to accelerating through this acquisition. Our common approach of using an open architecture and focusing on the user experience makes this a good fit for both of us."
Miller likes the combination. "Avaya is bringing a robust set of analytic tools into its mainstream products that will add an important component to the quality of service that Avaya delivers to their enterprise customers, and to their customers in turn," he says.