Voice is the most natural way to communicate, and the “stickiest” UCaaS application in the enterprise. Now, speech and AI technologies – along with trends like remote work, 5G networks and the Internet of things (IoT) – are driving up the value of voice.
“Today, voice has a growing number of use cases,” said consultant Jon Arnold, principal, J Arnold & Associates. “We are seeing voice being used for P2M (person to machine) and M2P (machine to person) communications as well as P2P (person to person) conversations. In addition, voice is becoming an important data stream for analytics and conversational AI.”
Speech technologies, AI and voice-activated devices like Alexa and Siri are generating increased interest in the voice channel, said Arnold in an Enterprise Connect session, “The New Voice Technologies: How Speech and AI Are Creating New Value for Enterprises.” In his talk, Arnold distinguished between voice (the traditional communication channel), speech (the content of voice communications) and AI (which creates business value for both voice and speech). Noting that speech applications can analyze words, phrases and sentiments in voice communications, Arnold said, “AI-driven innovation takes voice well beyond UCaaS, and 5G and IoT offer opportunities to use voice in new ways.”
Recognizing the future potential for voice, leading technology players, including Avaya, Zoom, Microsoft and Google, are acquiring speech technology and AI companies. Arnold added.
Voice in the enterprise
Voice is still the best mode for direct real-time communication, Arnold said. It brings nuance, warmth and emotions to conversations and collaborations. It is effective for both one-to-one and one-to-many communication sessions.
“Voice is quicker than text when it comes to search,” he said, adding that more than 50 percent of U.S. households now have AI-based voice-activated devices. “The comfort level with these devices in the home is very positive, and where the consumer leads, enterprises tend to follow.” The main concerns for consumers are data privacy and security, he said.
In the enterprise, voice benefits collaboration because there is nothing in the way of communication, Arnold said. It allows for the clear presentation of ideas, and immediate answers, reducing friction. It streamlines processes and workflows, and enables accessibility. Because voice cuts across all boundaries, it empowers people with disabilities.
Today’s AI-enabled speech technologies include speech to text, text to speech, data to speech, automatic speech recognition, voice biometrics, and noise suppression. “There are very strong use cases for all these forms of speech technology, especially for teamwork and collaboration,” he said. “With APIs and no/low code tools, enterprises can build their own smart speech apps.”
Arnold said the use cases for speech technologies keep getting better as AI improves, and cited several examples:
• Chatbots have evolved to conversational AI and personal digital assistants.
• Data to speech applications can generate audio summaries from business intelligence.
• AI can help maintain compliance across voice channels when collaborating.
• Personalized forms of automation keep remote workers more engaged with teams.
• Natural language processing (NLP) can detect cues about emotional state to better understand context and intent.
• Automated speech recognition (ASR) is supporting more languages, driving inclusivity.
On the horizon are more immersive speech technologies, such as identifying speakers in a room by their spatial relationships and boosting the voice of a quiet speaker in the back of the room.
Voice will also play a key role in virtual, augmented and extended reality applications as well. “Immersive workspaces are the next frontier for collaboration, so enterprises should consider hiring videogamers who are already familiar with those environments,” Arnold said. “And while voice still rules, AI rather than telephony, will be part of the future.”