Cisco to bring voice transcription to Webex with Voicea buy

Cisco to bring voice transcription to Webex with Voicea buy

The Voicea acquisition is part of a “cognitive collaboration” initiative as Cisco revamps its collaboration software and eyes new AI capabilities.

Cisco plans to bring voice transcription to its Webex meeting tools with the acquisition of Voicea, part of a wider initiative to add AI capabilities to its collaboration software.

Cisco today announced it would acquire the Mountain View, CA.-based company for an undisclosed amount. Voicea’s core product is its Enterprise Voice Assistant (EVA), a speech recognition tool that transcribes audio, providing highlights and action points for participants to follow up on.

The aim is to combine Voicea’s technology with Cisco’s Webex meeting tools, including its Webex Assistant voice assistant, which was developed after the $125 million acquisition of conversational AI startup MindMeld in 2017. Webex Assistant lets users start video meetings, check room availability and control conference room hardware using voice commands. 

“The possibilities are powerful through combining transcription (EVA) and conversational AI (Webex Assistant) engines,” Sri Srinivasan, senior vice president and general manager of Webex, said in a blog post. “When you combine these two powerful engines, you have an intelligent meeting assistant for every one of your meetings.”

The addition of Voicea’s technology will give users access to live transcription, as well as the ability to publish meeting summaries, capture action items and search for meeting notes. It will also be possible to route information generated from a meeting into business and collaboration applications such as Salesforce, Trello and Jira, said Srinivasan, “thereby creating uninterrupted workstreams.”

Voicea currently integrates with a number of third-party video applications, including Zoom, BlueJeans and Google Meet. (Cisco did not immediately respond to questions about whether it plans to continue that integration support.

Irwin Lazar, vice president and analyst at Nemertes Research, called the acquisition “a good move” for Cisco because it builds on previous investments in AI capabilities for Webex. Cisco has also added facial recognition to automatically identify participants in a video meeting, part of its wider “cognitive collaboration” initiative.

“Within the meeting space, the primary AI use cases are facial recognition, task recording and processing, and voice control of meeting applications. With the purchase of Voicea, Cisco now has capabilities in all three areas,” Lazar said.   

Though the use of voice technology in corporate environments is only now gaining traction, demand is growing. A recent survey of 645 companies by Nemertes Research showed that 43.3% were either evaluating or planning to deploy AI-enabled collaboration software.  

Cisco is not alone in bringing AI to meeting rooms. Amazon’s Alexa for Business is aimed at a range of “smart office” use cases, including the deployment of Echo devices in conference rooms, while Microsoft Teams integrates with its Cortana assistant and offers a range of AI features,  including automatic transcription.

Tim Banting, a principal analyst at Ovum, said companies are increasingly aware of the potential for AI to boost collaboration and communication and are beginning to favor vendors that offer such capabilities natively in existing applications.

“As more enterprises realize the benefit of embedding AI into their communications and team collaboration activities, they will start to select vendors that offer platforms that build AI into their core platform,” said Banting. “However, most enterprises are in the early evaluation stages of AI despite the promise of improvements to team productivity and reduced human latency.”

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