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Debut Conference To Tackle Opportunities for “Siri-like” Intelligent Assistants for Mobile and Enterprise Activities

2014 April 23

125x125_IA_2014Intelligent Assistants Conference 2014 will showcase real-world efforts to improve mobile customer experience, self-service efficiency, Web-based chat effectiveness and conversational commerce

San Francisco’s historic Palace Hotel will be the venue for a one-day event (Intelligent Assistants Conference, September 16, 2014) presenting applications, opportunities and challenges associated with offering human-like automated self-service.

Organized and produced by Opus Research, this first-of its-kind event will showcase efforts to improve mobile customer experience, self-service efficiency, Web-based chat effectiveness and conversational commerce by investing in solutions that put Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Analytics resources into practice in the real world.

“Interest in Intelligent Assistants is growing fast,” explained Dan Miller, founder and senior analyst at Opus Research and IAC conference chair. “Siri is seven years old and it’s been three years since IBM’s Watson defeated the champions on Jeopardy. Big Blue is poised to spend in excess of $2 billion on ‘cognitive computing’ to take on Google, Apple, Samsung, Intel and dozens of other solutions providers.”

At IAC 2014, presenters and panelists will discuss:

  • New Opportunities: Whether it’s called Cognitive Computing, Perceptual Computing, Conversational Commerce or some other variant, find out how Intelligent Assistants (IAs) figure into mobile devices and enterprise IT infrastructure strategies.
  • Competitive Landscape: Giants like IBM, Apple, Google, Intel, Nuance, Samsung and Amazon are joined by feisty innovators like Expect Labs, IntelliResponse, NextIT, Artificial Solutions, Linguasys, Inbenta and dozens of others.
  • Real-World Implementations: Case study presentations in a variety of verticals as well as horizontal apps like mobile assistants and branded, enterprise ‘bots.
  • Operational Decisions: Should IAs operate “in the background” like GoogleNow or sport a persona like Siri? What is the balance between human-assistance and automated assistance?

Sponsors for Intelligent Assistant Conference 2014 include Nuance, Interactions and Linguasys.

To learn more about event speaking and sponsoring opportunities, please contact Pete Headrick (, 415-904-7666) or click here.

Why West Acquired SchoolMessenger: A Natural Fit for Conversational Commerce

2014 April 21

WestCorpLast week, West Corporation announced intentions to acquire SchoolMessenger, a provider of proactive notification in the K-12 education market. This is a very interesting acquisition as West continues to enhance their outbound service offerings. We’ve seen other service providers, such as Genesys, enhance product offerings by acquiring outbound notification provider SoundBite, for example.

West’s acquisition of SchoolMessenger is very consistent with Opus Research’s view on the idea of Conversational Commerce, albeit with an education-oriented focus in this case. It is consistent across three key conversational commerce elements:

Context – Nothing demands more real-time conversations and context that an event at your child’s school. The need for immediate, precise and accurate information is critical when communicating in a very stressful, and potentially rapidly changing situation. Understanding that context, and the ability to act on that is a critical element of the school-to-parent conversation.

Omnichannel Engagement – SchoolMessenger’s solution has the ability to deliver context-aware notification is a variety of channels such as voice, SMS, email, social. Additionally, since West is known for its ability to handle a extremely high volume of conversations, SchoolMessagenr will also be able to support the high volume, simultaneous conversations across all channels.

Personalization – Parents and others responsible for their children at school have the ability to personalize their conversational experience allowing them to identify their preferred and prioritized communication channel for the fastest and most precise information. Even more, it’s interesting that parents can request real-time translation in their notification to their native language.

This acquisition by West will fit in nicely into their omnichannel outbound strategy focused on the education market.

How does your outbound conversational strategy fit alongside your inbound strategy? Is it all the same across the markets you serve, or are there unique considerations for each? How are you thinking about inbound and outbound conversations in the markets you address?

VBC-SF 2014 Agenda Update: Sharing Experience and Preparing for the Future

2014 April 18

300x250VBC_SF__14-15_2014The agenda for Voice Biometrics Conference – San Francisco 2014 (#VBCSF2014) has rounded out nicely. We’ll start with a rigorous assessment of the state of the market and culminate, a day and a half later, with an expert panel to discuss opportunity areas and technologies to support multi-factor authentication for a broad set of vertical markets and use cases. In between attendees will be treated to an overview of the mounting threat that phone-based fraud poses to banks, healthcare organizations, government agencies, telecommunications companies and retailers (courtesy of PinDrop Security). It will be followed by a descriptions of the mechanics and financial impact of security breeches at major retailers and card issuers “ripped from the headlines” of the business and general news media (presented by Verint).

A panel of experts will then describe the latest developments in efforts to use voice and other factors to secure mobile devices and apps. Strong, simple authentication is becoming increasingly important as smartphones emerge as the highly personal tools for communications, navigation, search, entertainment and commerce. A number of alternatives – including fingerprint, face, iris, even ear prints – have emerged as biometric candidates for securing and personalizing those smartphones, as well as tablet, phablets and laptops.

Day One culminates with a keynote case study from Beth Gallagher, VP of Payment Innovation at U.S. Bank. Beth will walk through the actual nsteps that a major commercial bank took to identify and specify the requirements for a voice biometric-based platform; processes involved in selecting an approach and a vendor; preparation for roll-out, including proof-of-concept, trials, training and managing expectations. She will also share insights gained from internal tests and evaluations. Her presentation will be followed by a reception and networking opportunity sponsored by Pindrop Security.

Day Two begins with a keynote case study from José Ignacio Zorilla, Executive director of Channels at Banco Santander-Mexico. His bank has more than 3 million monthly callers and has started to use voiceprints as a more convenient way for them to authenticate. His talk will be followed by a micro view of the impact of phone-based fraud on a commercial bank (anonymous, of course, but based on real world events and statistics.)

The rest of the day is dedicated to understanding alternative futures for voice biometrics and multifactor authentication, encompassing cloud-based deployments and the pay-as-you-go business model; operational considerations, such as enrollment procedures, standards development, phone line quality, and more; using voice in passive authentication scenarios, password replacement; bimodal approaches to implementation; and weaving simple authentication into e-commerce over a multiplicity of devices for a variety of verticals.

The closing panel will feature executives from Nuance Communications, VoiceVault, VoiceTrust and NICE Systems. I’ll be there to ask questions and provide my own insights, but we’ve always encouraged attendees to join discussions and BYOQ, “bring your own questions.” Voice biometrics-based solution sets and technologies are maturing rapidly. If you are involved with security, mobility, technology planning or user experience development in the industries mentioned above, you can play a very meaningful role in shaping its future while satisfying your own curiosity.

“Predictive Analytics: Using Big Data to Improve Multichannel Customer Care”

2014 April 14

PAreport_coverFeatured Research
Life is no longer lived “in real-time;” the future is already upon us. And the most admired companies and brands use Big Data and Predictive Analytics to get a head start. In this report, Opus Research analyzes the offerings of leading platform vendors who give companies the power to enable customers to use their device-of-choice and channel-of-choice at their time-of-choice.

Featured Research Reports are available to registered users only.

Click Here to View the Report Summary

For more information on becoming an Opus Research client or purchasing the report, please contact Pete Headrick (

Zendesk and the Art of Cloud-Based Customer Care

2014 April 8
by Tim Moynihan


A number of cloud-based contact center service providers have recently announced integration with web-based, help desk provider Zendesk. Among them include, Interactive Intelligence, 8×8 and Five9.

Indeed, Zendesk provides compelling, elegant and innovative solutions for customer service care. I think that cloud-based providers are targeting Zendesk as a key integration partner to assist on improving their Conversational Commerce goals to solve real contact center challenges. These include:

  • Actionable Context – Cloud providers are looking to cluster agents for the best possible customer experience. For example, by any channel, on any device, at any time. Customers can communicate with companies pretty much however they wish, but it has been a challenge to cloud-based providers to handle all of these interactions in context. In providing the best possible customer experience, an agent who understands the context of an interaction can provide an effective, more emotionally connected response and better represent the brand of the company.
  • Speed – Actionable context can make interactions between callers and agents faster and more efficient. Understating the customer path or journey allows agents to provide better customer satisfaction.
  • Smooth Integration – While cloud-based contact center service providers each have their own “special sauce,” they’re always looking for tools to streamline the customer interaction and seamlessly integrate tools and features. The ability to integrate, maintain, tune and extend services through these tools provide competitive differentiation and a strategic advantage.
  • Metrics, Metrics, Metrics – Providers want visibility into how they’re doing, as do their customers. Actionable metrics allow providers to fine-tune their operations and processes, thereby addressing costs as well as business goals.

Hence, cloud-based providers are looking to companies such as Zendesk to provide elegant solutions to both customers and contact center operators. What do you think?

Webcast: “Voice Biometrics: The Benefits of a Unified Approach to Mobile Authentication”

2014 April 7

As smartphones now play key roles in e-commerce and personal communications for hundreds of millions of mobile users, our advice is, “authenticate early and often.” As using the prevailing PIN and password-based systems is easier said than done, voiceprints provide the easy-to-implement and easy-to-use alternative that supports a “unified” approach to mobile authentication.

Join Dan Miller, senior analyst and founder of Opus Research, and Nik Stanbridge, vice president of product marketing at VoiceVault, to engage in a lively discussion of:

  • How mobility is driving the need for stronger authentication to build trusted links between and among individuals and enterprises

  • What voice biometrics technologies are; and how they differ from other factors for promoting security and personalization

  • How a unified approach to design and deployment saves time, money and effort for application developers and solution providers

  • How to get started to gain experience with a unified voice biometric product

Executives at firms with an interest in providing the best, most personalized mobile experience for customers and employees should take part in this webcast. So should mobile application developers who recognize that strong, simple authentication is key to supporting secure payments and highly personalized services.

Webcast – Voice Biometrics: The Benefits of a Unified Approach to Mobile Authentication

April 29, 2014 — 1:00 p.m. EST / 10:00 a.m. PST
Sign up below to register the webcast

Intelligent Assistants are Starting to Differentiate Themselves

2014 April 3

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 3.41.37 PMAs markets mature, incumbents distinguish themselves by capitalizing on long-term branding and R&D investment, while insurgents put pressure on with new features and functions that they hope will gain traction. A flurry of new announcements in the Intelligent Agent domain show that we’re witnessing a maturing market. With its acquisition of Novauris, Apple has acquihired a team of speech recognition technology developers who have optimized their engine for search of large databases and tweaked it to run as an embedded mobile resource or in the cloud. Novauris’ long-time CEO Yoon Kim, is now an Apple employee “working on improving Siri,” where his know-how (along with Novauris’ IP) will be a tremendous asset in the overall objective of helping people “get things done just by using your voice.”

Among the other incumbents, Microsoft finally introduced the world to the long-rumored (and still in beta) Cortana personal assistant as part of the April 2 Build 2014, the launch event for Windows Phone 8.1. Instead of taking on a human form, Cortana (which started its cyber-life as an assistant in the xBox game Halo) looks something like a halo. It supports spoken or keyed in commands and responds using the same actress, Jen Taylor, who provides the voice for the videogame’s Cortana. What is especially noteworthy in this case is that the knowledge base that “powers” Cortana’s search function is Bing. Put another way, the new mobile UI for Bing is Cortana. Thus it is poised to demonstrate the power of natural language understanding to simplify the search process.

But Cortana won’t stop with simple search. As Greg Sterling described in this article in Marketing Land, Cortana will be a persistent presence across multiple devices and screens and will become a source of “deep personalization” for Microsoft applications and device functions. This, Microsoft believes will make it a big differentiator versus Siri or Google Now and certainly much moire than “Clippy redux.”Nuance, another incumbent in the speech-enabled virtual assistant world, is also upping its game by adding a voiceprint to its Dragon Mobile Assistant. This is a wise move when it comes to personalizing functions and services. Launched on the day before Cortana’s formal debut, the new version of Dragon Mobile Assistant is available for Android-based devices from Google Play. Once it is downloaded, users will be prompted to enroll their voiceprint by saying “Hello Dragon” a few times to build the voiceprint. Then they can use the phrase as a “wake-up” word for the device, which is a security feature, and they can use their voice to dictate and send messages, control device functions and carry out voice searches.

As for action on the insurgent  front, Artificial Solutions is taking an innovative approach to supporting humanlike interactions or conversations with a number of virtual assistants – each with domain-specific expertise. Called the Teneo Network of Knowledge, it is a patented framework that enables a personal agent to refer questions to other virtual assistants. These resources can identify themselves explicitly or may just appear in an answer screen or speak as an anonymous source. Of course they could also explicitly be presented as the branded persona or automated agent of a retailer, airline, hotel chain, telco or other business enterprise.

All of these actions signal the emergence of a very real, maturing market for intelligent assistants.

Enterprise Connect Showcases Holes in the Holistic Approach to Integrating Contact Center and UC Infrastructures

2014 April 1
by Dan Miller

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 4.28.25 PMEvery year, I attend Enterprise Connect (link) to assess the progress that vendors are making to accommodate demand for Unified Communications (UC) infrastructure, especially the flavors that support self-service and assisted services functions for customer care and support. Every year I come away more convinced than ever that there really is little or no demand for “pure” UC (meaning “UC for UC’s sake”), especially in the contact center. What enterprise customers really want is middleware, application program interfaces (APIs) and other interstitial resources that enable them to protect and extend the service life of the IT and network elements that are already working, while adding, integrating or appending platforms that support new features and functions that are expected in this era of mobile communications, multi-channel support and, increasingly HD-video commerce.

My observation held more true than ever at Enterprise Connect 2014 in Orlando. Through keynotes and briefings Cisco, Avaya, Microsoft, Genesys, Unify, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise and others conveyed a picture of the world that has been simplified and flattened by IP-based communications, well-defined APIs and well-understood standards. Simplicity has enabled individual consumers to carry out commerce and communications over their channel-of-choice, using their device-of-choice and at their time-of-choice. It is not a story of unification; instead it is about supporting, and indeed anticipating, diversity and choices. Accordingly, the success of any particular vendor should not be its “share” of a fictional Unified Communications market (a zero-sum game), but how well a given solution provider co-exists with existing, proven solutions. This remains a heterogeneous, multi-vendor world. “Live it, or Live With it!” (credit to Firesign Theatre)

In past years, listening to the giant vendors snipe at one another in order to gain competitive advantage was the major source of entertainment. This year the competitive landscape is totally different. Large, legacy vendors are challenged to compete on unfamiliar terrain where emerging technology providers may have already established a beachhead. Companies large and small are on equal footing when trying to gain a foothold in The Cloud. Competitive dynamics are equally distorted when companies try to get up-to-speed while helping their enterprise customers develop and pursue mobile strategies. Ditto when all eyes are focusing on the prize (and price) of creating the best CX (customer experience).

Creating the best customer experience (CX) trumps all other competitive considerations. It is the desire to take advantage of analytic engines and big databases that can only reside in the cloud that has precipitated the massive move to cloud-based or “hybrid” implementations of self-service and assisted services resources. That’s where rules engines and decisioning systems can be brought to bear to determine the best way to treat interactions from mobile devices. There’s a “Back to the Future” aspect to this approach. High-volume IVR systems linked to intelligent routing, like AT&T CallPromptr and MCI’s EVS (Enhanced Voice Services) were clunky, voice-only prototypes for today’s Conversational Clouds. They are the platforms for customer care applications that present individuals with a natural user interface that let’s them communicate in their own words (natural language), whether they choose to text, type, talk, point or all of the above.

It’s a tall order to keep both UC and Contact Center systems current and constantly up-and-running. To do so a growing number of companies are turning to cloud-based solutions providers, They keep the latest technology in-use and they have proven that they can do it at scale with high levels of reliability, making them the best candidates to manage transition, though not “unification.” It’s a high-wire act which is also supported by relatively rapid-fire releases of software updates. Genesys, for instance, recently revealed that it is stepping up the cycle times for releasing new software into its Customer Experience Cloud to 4-6 weeks. Microsoft’s keynoter at Enterprise Connect Gurdeep Singh Pall noted that its flagship UC platform Lync, is slated for quarterly releases, as opposed to Microsoft’s long-standing policy of tying major releases to the updates of the Windows operating system. The innovation cycle is speeding up at a faster rate than ever before. This is a given that is destined to be the source of significant risk for enterprise IT managers and business opportunities for IT solutions providers (cloud-based, premises-based and hybrid).

For calculus aficionados this is one of those 2nd derivative moments. We’re witnessing an increased rate of change in the rate of change, fueled by the trends highlighted at Enterprise Connect and amplified by the speed at which new releases of applications, features and functions can be launched into multiple vendors’ cloud-based (or hybrid) platforms. Opportunities abound for the firms that are fast to act, can fill known gaps and can be disruptive without disrupting system performance.

New Zealand’s Tax and Social Welfare Authority is Voice Authentication Success Story

2014 March 27
by Dan Miller

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 4.14.23 PMWhen it comes to using voice-based authentication as alternatives to PINs and passwords, the world could learn a lot form New Zealand. In scope, duration and staying power, the Kiwi’s plans for eGovernment and ID proofing put the rest of the world to shame. This point was made manifest when Revenue Minister Todd McClay proclaimed on the government Web site that the department’s Voice ID service had hit and exceeded a 1 million enrollee milestone, going so far as to say that 60-70% of callers to IRD  have registered their voiceprints which is “saving taxpayers a staggering 8,500 hours of phone time each year” as they turn to the phone channel to check their account balance, receive child support information, track tax refunds, retrieve IRD numbers, activate online services or reset passwords.

The Inland Revenue Department (Te Tari Taake in native Maori) launched the program in July 2012 and targeted 800,000 enrollees in its first year of operation. For the record, the country has a population of roughly 4.5 million with over 6 million accounts with its taxation office. While there are legitimate reasons for such a ratio is that businesses need to establish their own ID number with the IRD. That said, the agency initially became interested in voice biometrics as a way to reduce fraud.

One case, in particular, provided incentive for IRD to step up to the Voice Biometric Plate. The department became aware of individual who said he had used names and dates of birth to obtain information on 25 people, which he then to create 103 companies and filed tax returns for all of them, each eligible for a refund. According to a report in the Government Technology Review, the raud was picked up after $53,000 had been claimed (though not paid out. In court, the the fraudster admitted that he had designed the scheme to defraud the government of $2.5 million a year by making multiple claims that fell underneath the government’s threshold.

IRD definitely has first mover status in terms of eGovernment applications. On the one hand, it has proven how simple and effective the use of voice biometrics can be. It also demonstrates the depth of commitment and thought that must go into taking a holistic approach to both ID and access management (IAM). This point was driven home at the Voice Biometrics Conference in London (November 2013) when John Dardo, Assistant Commissioner at the Australian Taxation Office (the IRD’s nearby cousin) shared his thoughts on his government’s efforts to take a “whole of the customer” approach to eGovernment and its service delivery strategy.

In essence, we have a situation where multiple government agencies are communicating with and serving individuals who have multiple credentials, identifiers, accounts and devices. To maintain trusted links and carry out trusted communications, strong authentication is getting ever more important. Suffice it to say that there are big plans to make voice biometrics a big part of establishing confidence that an individual is the person he or she claims to be regardless of when, where and how they try to reach the government. In New Zealand, the analogous program is called RealMe, which is positioned as a “single sign on” service designed to replace more cumbersome ways for individuals to prove their identity when they apply for or establish eligibility for government services or programs. The program launched in 2013. Its roadmap includes additional mechanisms for multifactor authentication, full mobile support and support for voice biometrics.

For those who are wondering, registration entails a trip to the post office with a picture and proof of identity that can be presented in person. Adding voiceprints and multifactor authentication to the mix is a big step toward fraud-reduction and trust. Because it is based on “who you are,” not what you know, it should be more impervious to impostors, yet simple to use.

U.S Bank and Banco Santander Mexico to Highlight Mobile Banking, Customer Care at VBC San Francisco

2014 March 26

BethG_smallVoice Biometrics Conference San Francisco 2014 will feature Beth Gallagher, VP of payments innovation with U.S. Bank, and José Ignacio Zorrilla, executive director of channels at Banco Santander Mexico, describing how voice biometrics can be used to authenticate banking customers over the phone or for mobile banking applications.

Both U.S. Bank and Banco Santander Mexico are currently deploying voice biometrics as a means to identify and authenticate banking customers rather than relying on passwords or knowledge-based questions. Each organization will discuss how to build an authentication strategy that helps better serve customers, streamline operational efficiencies and save money.

VBC San Francisco (May 14-15) will address the pressing issues facing executives in financial services, contact centers, healthcare, insurance and communications that enable secure interactions with customers.

Click here to see the VBC San Francisco 2014 agenda.

Voice Biometrics Conference San Francisco is the only global event dedicated to voice security and multi-factor authentication and features a who’s-who sponsor list of industry stalwarts and technology visionaries in voice biometrics, fraud prevention and security & authentication. The sponsor list includes:

  • Platinum Sponsors: Nuance, NICE, Verint, VoiceVault
  • Gold Sponsors: ValidSoft, Pindrop Security, VoiceTrust, AGNITiO
  • Event Sponsors: RSA, ImageWare Systems