MyWave Intelligent Assistant Cuts Your Utility Costs

Saveawatt, a utilities brokerage and consultancy, is about to offer utility customers in New Zealand a free personal digital assistant to help them save money on their utilities. The intelligent assistant, named Frank, was created by the technology company MyWave.

FrankBased on information available on the Saveawatt website, Frank looks like a very innovative and useful assistant. Frank isn’t designed as a self-service assistant to answer customer questions. Instead, he acts as a proactive utility rate advisor with the goal of finding you the best deal on the market.

Utility companies in New Zealand are deregulated, so their rates fluctuate to stay competitive. If you sign up to use Frank, the assistant tracks your power usage and your bill. Frank continually monitors rates and can proactively switch you to a different provider to take advantage of better rates. The Frank personal utility advisor is available on mobile, tablet or desktop.

We’re starting to see more intelligent assistants beef up their game to take on the role of intelligent advisors. Frank, the Saveawatt rate advisor, combines a voice-driven interface, access to data and analytics, and the ability to carry out transactions on behalf of the user. I believe this is the future direction of what Opus Research’s Dan Miller refers to as intelligent assistance.

In a recent announcement, MyWave completed a second round of venture capital funding. Geraldine McBride, MyWave founder and CEO, will be giving the opening Keynote at Opus Research’s Intelligent Assistant Conference next week.

Nuance Launches Enhancements to Nina Intelligent Assistant Platform

Nuance made several exciting announcements at the recent SpeechTek event about enhancements to their existing multi-channel customer self-service and intelligent assistant tools and platforms. In a discussion with Greg Pal, Vice President of Marketing, Strategy & Business Development of Nuance’s Enterprise Division, I was able to gain a deeper insight into these newly launched capabilities.

Nuance Experience Studio

Nuance NinaCustomers of Nuance’s Nina intelligent assistant can leverage the new Experience Studio to expand Nina’s capabilities and deploy their self-service assistant across other channels, such as mobile or social. The Experience Studio includes authoring tools for extending Nina’s knowledge repository with industry-specific or company-specific information. Nuance Experience Studio also includes learning models. Customers can construct new learning models that power their intelligent assistant with additional capabilities.

Automation Assist

Nuance has integrated human assistance into the Nina intelligent assistant platform. By selectively engaging live agents to help decipher more complex customer conversations, Automation Assist makes it possible for the self-service platform to be used more broadly with high rates of success. The role of live agents is to help close knowledge or comprehension gaps that stump the automated assistant. Over time, though, the assistant leverages learning models and expanded knowledge bases to close these gaps.

Two-Way SMS with NLU Automation

The unstoppable popularity of SMS text communications, and its expansion into the customer service domain, hasn’t slipped by Nuance unnoticed. In an exciting move, Nuance has added natural language understanding (NLU) capabilities to its real-time two-way SMS solution. Prior to the inclusion of NLU, two-way SMS communications were limited to very simple interactions that had binary “yes/no” responses. But what if a customer responds with “sure thing” or “my Dad is the one who pays the phone bill so you should call him?” NLU can make sense of these free form responses, drastically expanding the use cases where the two-way SMS communication can be applied.

I also spoke to Pal briefly about the Nuance and USAA partnership in creating the recently launched USAA Savings Coach. As I wrote in a previous post, I really like the idea behind the Savings Coach. Pal said that Nuance has been exploring how to evolve virtual assistants into virtual advisors.

I wrote briefly in a previous post about how Nuance and USAA included gamification concepts into the Savings Coach. Pal emphasized that to make a virtual advisor successful, you have to come up with creative ways to proactively engage the user and help them work towards achieving their goals. It’s all about understanding what the customer hopes to accomplish and helping them do that.

Nuance continues to be at the forefront of implementing multi-channel customer self-service technologies. All of their recently launched product additions help to increase the value of the Nina intelligent assistant platform and lower the total cost of ownership for customers.

Opus Research Publishes Intelligent Assistant Guide for Decision Makers

Opus Research has published an insightful new report on intelligent assistants. The report, called “Decision-Maker’s Guide to Enterprise Intelligent Assistants,” focuses on customer-facing self-service technologies.

Opus Research ReportIn the report, Dan Miller, Opus Research Lead Analyst and Founder, starts out with a brief look at how the intelligent assistant phenomenon is permeating both consumer-facing and enterprise solutions. End users of all types are now accustomed to voice-driven, connected, predictive assistants and expectations for the technology are growing.

Miller goes on to offer deep insights into specific capabilities enterprise intelligent assistants need in order to rise to the top. Miller calls these attributes the “Eight Characteristics of Highly Intelligent Assistants.” Miller’s characteristics of success aren’t what you might expect. Features such as super speech recognition, strong natural language processing, and deep knowledgebases, are all basic operational requirements these days.

What truly distinguishes the most effective intelligent assistant solutions, according to Miller, are other areas of focus and capabilities. You’ll need to read the full report to get the benefit of Miller’s insights. As a teaser, though, I’ll say that Miller expects the most highly effective enterprise assistants to engage customers on their preferred platforms, integrate seamlessly with existing customer support infrastructure, and provide plenty of data to convince management of their effectiveness.

The second half of the report takes a deep dive look at 13 enterprise intelligent assistant providers. Miller examines each vendor’s core technology and intelligent assistant solutions. He cites examples of each provider’s notable customer implementations and lists overall differentiators. Miller also evaluates how each vendor’s solutions rate with regard to some of the characteristics that he deems to be particularly important for success.

The Opus Research report definitely lives up to its name. If you’re in the market for an enterprise intelligent assistant for your company, or even if you’re just starting to research customer self-service options, you don’t want to miss this Decision-Maker’s Guide.

If you’re interested in an up-close and personal look at intelligent assistants, you should also consider attending Opus Research’s Intelligent Assistants Conference, scheduled to take place in New York City from October 13-14, 2015. You’ll hear how real companies have leveraged enterprise intelligent assistants to improve customer experience and achieve key performance indicators.

If you’re already using an enterprise intelligent assistant, there’s still time to enter your solution in the 2nd Annual Intelligent Assistants Awards. If your entry qualifies, you’ll even receive two complimentary passes to the conference.

Cortana Enters the Enterprise with Predictive Analytics

Microsoft announced the Cortana Analytics Suite at the Microsoft World Wide Partner Conference in Orlando. Recently I wrote about the potential for intelligent assistants in the Enterprise. The Microsoft announcement seems to be a step in that direction.

Cortana Analytics SuiteCortana Analytics Suite appears to consist of packaged machine-based learning solutions that companies can implement to gain new insights about their customers, product lines, and business. The underlying technology and focus on predictive analytics seems to compete squarely with IBM Watson’s cognitive computing solution.

See my guest post on the Opus Research blog to find out more about Microsoft’s push to combine predictive business analytics with the personality of an intelligent assistant.


Tractica Foresees Strong Growth in Intelligent Assistants

Tractica, a  market intelligence firm that focuses on human interaction with technology, has published a report on what they term digital virtual assistants. In the report, Tractica examines both the consumer and enterprise markets.

Digital BrainI don’t have access to the full report, but I reviewed the table of contents and read a press release that described the contents. Tractica predicts strong growth in the overall intelligent assistant space. The way in which they measure the growth is interesting.

The press release states that Tractica predicts that intelligent assistants will become integrated into 3.3 billion consumer devices by 2020, up from 821 million in 2014. I’m assuming that the 821 million isn’t referring to 821 different products, but 821 instances of the products that have intelligent assistants.

A report in CNET from May stated that 94 million iPhones were in use in the U.S. at the end of March 2015, so it’s not hard to imagine that there are currently at least 821 million devices with intelligent assistants worldwide. An expansion of that number to 3.3 billion in five years sounds reasonable. Especially when you consider all the various functional domains where intelligent assistants are already in use, it seems a safe bet that the number will increase significantly.

In the consumer space, the report  takes a closer look at Speaktoit’s Assistant, Amazon Echo/Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, Google Now, and Apple Siri.

Tractica also examines intelligent assistants across Banking and Finance, Education, Government, Healthcare, Retail, Travel, Utilities Telecom, and other verticals. They take an in-depth look at enterprise intelligent assistants from Next IT, IPSoft, AVST, GetAbby (Eidoserve), and Nuance. In addition, they cover 27 key industry players across both the consumer and the enterprise markets.

The report also notes areas of improvement that are needed to help intelligent assistants reach a wider audience and fulfill their potential. The improvement areas include better consumer education and “seamless handover between assistants.”

You can find out more about the report or order a full copy from the Tractica website.

GetAbby Uses Human Avatar for Increased Customer Engagement

How important is it for a customer­-facing intelligent virtual assistant to look like a real person? There has been an abundance of academic research on the use of embodiment in virtual agents. Back in 2013, I wrote about one such study by Ann L. Baylor from Florida State University. Baylor’s experiment indicated that human-like talking avatars made it easier for young people to relate to the avatar, especially when the avatar displayed physical characteristics that were similar to the interlocutor’s age, gender, and culture.

Get Abby AvatarGetAbby is a provider of innovative intelligent virtual assistant technologies that leverages conversational relationships and the human identity. GetAbby’s technology is unique among intelligent assistant vendors. While their solution leverages speech recognition and natural language processing capabilities like other vendors, GetAbby’s avatar is an actual human, encoded with their customer’s message in mind.

The technology driving the GetAbby human avatar is called True Image and it enables clients to use any person of their choosing as the avatar. True Image transforms video recordings of the person into an avatar with real human characteristics and expressivity. GetAbby’s avatar can actually understand, educate, coach, and remind users.

Why does GetAbby use human avatars? GetAbby focuses on what they term the psychology of engagement. In their view, to be truly engaging a virtual agent must win the trust of the human with whom it’s interacting.

Wayne Scholar, CTO at GetAbby, gave a presentation at the Mobile Voice Conference 2015. In the presentation, Scholar listed three key characteristics a virtual agent requires to build trust: Ability, Benevolence, and Integrity. GetAbby has found that human avatars have an advantage over any other type of animated character in exhibiting all these fundamental human characteristics and in building trust, because humans are inherently influenced by our natural urge to communicate with other humans.

As Scholar noted in his presentation, human avatars also skirt the danger of the uncanny valley. Animated characters or cartoon figures that too closely resemble humans, but that aren’t quite human, can be repelling to people and destroy any sense of engagement.

GetAbby analytics verify that customers have a high level of engagement with the human avatar. 70% follow the avatar to make an online purchase. Over 85% say they find the avatar to be trustworthy and would interact with it again. The solution provides for a broad range of data analytics, including: usage trends, unanswered question logs, and information on context patterns.

The GetAbby human avatar technology seems to be well-suited for a variety of use cases. GetAbby’s solutions platform focuses on call center, candidate selection & assessment, financial, government, healthcare, and retail industries. You can visit the GetAbby website to see a demo of the human avatar technology.

A Look at Hexa Research’s Report on the Intelligent Virtual Assistant Market

Hexa Research, a market research and consulting firm, published an in-depth analysis of the intelligent virtual assistant market last year. I was recently able to review an excerpted sample. In the report, Hexa Research forecast the global demand for intelligent virtual assistants to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of over 30% from 2013 to 2020. That means that over the next five years, the report authors expect the size of the market for virtual agent solutions to more than triple and be valued at around $3 Billion.

Intelligent Virtual AgentThe report cites several factors for this expansive growth. These factors include: increased customer demand for online self-service, a trend towards self-reliance, and the increasing capability of intelligent assistant technologies to quickly provide customers with the answers they need.

Most of the data in the report is presented in terms of market segmentation and global regions. The two market segments used for the research are Large Enterprises and Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). The regions examined are North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and RoW (Rest of the World–which for this report includes South America, Middle East, and Africa).

North America is cited as the current leader in terms of revenue from intelligent assistants sales. However, growth in emerging markets is expected to accelerate more quickly than in either North America or Europe over the next five years, due to a surge in mobile usage in those areas. Large enterprises far outpace SMEs on spending for intelligent assistants, accounting for over 80% of the market. SME spending is expected to pick up, but remain small when compared to the investments of large enterprises.

Hexa Research offers an interesting overview of the virtual agent technology ecosystem. Their overview distinguishes between four levels of capability, or maturity. What they call Level 1, for example, consists of virtual agents that only engage the customer via a text-to-text interface and that offer responses in a text-based format. To achieve Level 2, the intelligent assistant needs to have at least a branded image and some other characteristics beyond Level 2. I found this maturity model interesting, as the general concept bears some semblance to the capability model that I presented at the recent Mobile Voice Conference 2015. You’ll need access to the full report to see the other distinguishing characteristics across the four intelligent assistant maturity levels that Hexa Research has defined.

You’ll also need access to the full report to see the Porter’s Five Forces Analysis, which examines the level of competition and business strategy associated with threats of new entrants, supplier power, industry rivalry, buyer power, and threat of substitutes. The report also includes an analysis of 16 intelligent virtual assistant vendors and related technology providers. Since the report was published, IntelliResponse was acquired by [24]7.

Based on the sample I reviewed, I can imagine that vendors in the industry or in a closely related industry would be interested in the information in the full report (assuming they haven’t already read it). The report could also provide insights to companies considering an investment in virtual agent technologies or to organizations interested in the market and where it might be headed over the next five years.