Cisco Spark Assistant will be available in 2018 and represents a rising class of utilitarian business-to-business (B2B) voice assistants. Spark Assistant is being marketed as “the world’s first enterprise-ready voice assistant for meetings.” It will initially be available with the forthcoming Spark Room 70, a 70″ videoconferencing monitor. Spark Assistant will only be available in limited release according to the media announcement.
We will release Cisco Spark Assistant in phases, starting early next year. In the first phase, a small group of customers will use select features.
The phase one features are include voice interactions to start meetings, launch or join a WebEx and make calls. Cisco plans to eventually enable Spark Assistant to record meetings, “assign action items and create meeting summaries.”
Commercializing Mindmeld Technology
Cisco acquired AI-startup MindMeld in May for $125 million. At the time, Cisco’s Vice President of Corporate Business Development Rob Salvagno focused on externally facing business use cases that MindMeld could enable:
[MindMeld has] become an industry leader in AI, providing natural language interfaces for such use cases as shopping online, ordering products or contacting customer support.
These customer facing use cases may still emerge as Cisco features in Spark Assistant or another product. However, the first application of Mindmeld is going to focus on the more utilitarian meeting productivity angle. The obvious question is whether Spark Assistant is simply a promotional feature today designed to help sell Cisco’s new Spark Room 70 videoconferencing solution. The feature set seems very light for the initial rollout. The expectation is that MindMeld can take on far more complex tasks.
B2B Voice Assistants Emerge
Nuance and IPsoft recently announced virtual assistants specifically designed to address healthcare use cases. Both companies have a long history of voice and AI-based services for business users. Earlier in the year, Ricoh announced it would start shipping voice-controlled smart whiteboards powered by IBM’s Watson. Startup Voicera has a voice assistant for meeting collaboration not tied to any hardware that is promoting features today that won’t be available in Cisco Spark Assistant’s phase one rollout. While much of the media attention flows to Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant and their many consumer use cases, B2B focused voice assistants are on the rise. Cisco is the latest entry and we expect to see many more.
The biggest player in this space around voice-enabled AI-driven business productivity is likely to be Microsoft. The company’s Cortana voice assistant and Teams collaboration solution are not likely to compete with Cisco in the hardware category but will address many of the in-meeting and post-meeting features that Spark Assistant hopes to eventually provide.