Intelligent Virtual Assistant Market Poised to Hit $2.1 Billion in 2019

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Whether on the Web or mobile devices, intelligent virtual agent (IVA) use is seeing rapid adoption. The IVA market, valued at $352 million in 2012, is projected to climb to more than $2.1 billion by 2019, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30.6 percent from 2013, said analysts in a July report from Transparency Market Research.

North America drove the majority of the global intelligent virtual assistant market in 2012, taking a 39.6 percent share of the overall market, which was fueled by greater investment in customer relationship management systems across all types of businesses.

The Asia-Pacific region is gaining ground and is poised to be crowned the fastest-growing IVA market during the forecast period. Analysts predict the IVA market in the region will increase at a CAGR of 32.2 percent from 2013 to 2019, driven by increased technology investments and accelerated sales of mobile devices.

Transparency Market Research analysts also report that the IVA market is extremely competitive and highly fragmented. The report identified NextIT, Creative Virtual, SpeakToit, IntelliResponse, Nuance Communications, Artificial Solutions, and eGain as the major vendors in the market.

In 2012, Nuance unveiled Nina, a cloud-based IVA that uses speech recognition, text-to-speech, voice biometrics, and natural language understanding technology. In 2013, Nuance revamped Nina, adding multichannel capabilities that enable customers to self-serve via text, mobile apps, voice, and the Internet. The IVA also routes conversations to the contact center, enabling users to speak with live agents in 38 languages. Among the companies that have rolled out apps based on the Nina platform are USAA, U.S. Bank, and Santander. More recently, restaurant chain Domino's Pizza unveiled a beta version of "Dom," a Nina-backed mobile voice-enabled IVA that takes customer orders.

"Five to eight years ago, the challenge was to understand the words that were spoken, getting the speech recognition right," says Robert Weideman, executive vice president and general manager of the Nuance Enterprise Division. "You see now how accurate it's become, even in noisy environments. What we're cracking the code on now is understanding what was meant, understanding intent. By understanding intent, we can do even more automation, and we can do that through text, through speech, and we can have that support not only in the IVR, mobile, and Web, but you will eventually see Nina on smart televisions, in the car, and ATMs."

IntelliResponse is another IVA provider that earlier this year launched an integrated CRM and marketing solution, dubbed Offers. The intent-based solution presents real-time, customized promotions to customers as part of an interaction.

An IntelliResponse banking client that deployed Offers saw a 46 percent gain in click-throughs, a 17 percent increase in started applications, and a 16 percent climb in completed applications. "When it comes to customer service, consumers nowadays are looking for one thing only: convenience," said David Lloyd, CEO of IntelliResponse, in an email. "Consumers want to accomplish tasks and get customer service whenever, wherever, and however they desire. Consumers also want to get the one right answer to their question the first time they ask. It's more important than ever that virtual assistants recognize the intent behind questions, not just the keywords."

Lloyd expects the online self-service market to grow "exponentially" in the next few years, as many companies start to realize that an effortless customer experience should be a top priority.

Dan Miller, founder and senior analyst at Opus Research, also believes that the IVA market will continue to take off as customers increasingly embrace self-service and companies use another type of IVA, the automated intelligent assistant (AIA).

"Automated intelligent assistants are already hard at work doing customer support, sales, and marketing for the likes of Coca-Cola, the U.S. Army, Hyatt Hotels, Stanford University, and dozens of other brands in retail, healthcare, utilities, education, and hospitality," Miller said in a statement. "The AIAs are designed to recognize real-world implementations that are the pinnacle of real-time natural language understanding, knowledge management, machine learning, and conversational technologies."

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