Nuance bets Nina can be killer enterprise app

Nuance CEO Paul Ricci said corporations are showing a strong interest in the company's virtual assistant software dubbed Nina.

Nuance Communications' Nina virtual assistant is seeing strong interest from enterprises looking to take the application for a spin, according to CEO Paul Ricci.

On Monday, Nuance introduced Nina, a suite that on the surface is similar to Apple's Siri. The primary difference is that Nina is designed to be all business.

Nuance Nina Banking TRANSACT Make Payment Question Screen

In a nutshell, Nina rolls up speech recognition, text-to-speech, voice biometrics and natural language understanding for customer service uses. Nina is designed to understand what was said and who said it. Insurance outfit USAA is using Nina in an app and will roll the software out to all customers in early 2013. The pilot will launch this month.

If Nuance has its way, Nina will be rolled out to more companies in short order. In fact, Nina's adoption could pick up given that it's offered as an on-demand product in the cloud, said Ricci, speaking on Nuance's earnings conference call. In shaky economic times, a cloud service that can cut customer service labor could resonate.

Ricci said:

The interest in our on-demand solutions over the last few months in enterprise, and in particular the interest for our biometrics solutions and for the virtual assistant, the enterprise virtual assistant, have been extremely strong. I think internally we view the reception among beta customers to our Nina solution that we announced earlier this week, as really quite exceptional, and I think that will in fact drive proportionately greater growth in our on-demand bookings.

We are also just seeing a stronger interest among enterprises, away from conventional on-premise licensing towards one of two alternatives. One, a hosted cloud solution, or the second, the on-premise solution delivered by us in the form of a managed service.

Ricci argued that a Nina cloud service can help companies keep in touch with customers and employees through mobile devices.

The world is migrating, as you know, to one in which large companies seek to address their customers and their employees increasingly through a mobile device. Given that they are doing that, what they would like is to have a voice-enabled intelligent interactive system that helps that customer or that employee get to the specific information they are seeking in a compelling way. And Nina integrates a combination of voice recognition, natural language understanding, dialogue management, some knowledge representation, in order to enable that.

For the financial services industry in particular, you might imagine customers using the system to find out the status of their accounts, their balances, flows that they are expecting to monitor, transactions that they want to perform, insurance payments they want to make, and so forth, all using a mobile device that is very voice-centric but has other modalities of interaction to help complement that.

Nina comes with a persona---in English for now---a software development kit, reference designs and a cloud service.

As for Nuance's third quarter earnings. The company reported third quarter earnings of $79.3 million, or 25 cents a share, on revenue of $431.7 million, up 31.3 percent from a year ago. Non-GAAP earnings were 45 cents a share, 2 cents ahead of Wall Street estimates. Revenue was bolstered by acquisitions such as Transcend and Loquendo.

Nuance's healthcare, mobile and imaging divisions all showed strong growth. On the mobile front, Nuance has software on 70 Android devices. The company's enterprise unit saw revenue growth of 6.6 percent in the quarter, but Nina may change that profile a bit.


The company's outlook for the fourth quarter was soft on revenue and in line for earnings per share. In addition, Nuance raised $600 million in debt, which is likely to be used for acquisitions. Ricci said there are multiple takeover candidates in the healthcare industry.

One obvious takeover candidate for Nuance is MModal, which provides healthcare transcription and speech services. MModal announced plans to go private at $17 a share. MModal said that it had an offer from "party A" for $14 a share, but that buyer already acquired a similar company. Nuance, which acquired Transcend, was most likely party A given MModal said it was worried about antitrust implications.


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