Info-tech

Uniphore finds its voice in speech analytics

Meera Siva Chennai | Updated on January 20, 2018

Umesh Sachdev, co-founder and CEO, Uniphore

Speech-recognition firm boasts 6 patents and has served 70 enterprise customers

Can a phone understand what you say, and better yet, carry out banking transactions? And can it do that no matter which regional language you talk in?  

Making speech-enabled communication a reality has launched Uniphore, a Chennai-based speech-recognition and analytics company, on an international growth trajectory.

The company, co-founded by Umesh Sachdev and Ravi Saraogi, boasts six patents and has served 70 enterprise customers including, Tamil Nadu government, Axis Bank and Grameen Koota.

Recently, Sachdev was featured in Time magazine’s 2016 list of ‘10 millennials who are changing the world’. 

Uniphore’s main product is auMina, a speech analytics software solution that can identify trends, predict outcomes and suggest process improvements. This can be quite handy in call centres, which end up at the butt-end of many jokes on mis-communication.

Analysing calls

When customers call customer service to report a problem, they may hit a wall as the support person is unable to get the context of the call or quickly escalate the issue.

Now, imagine if there is a live analysis of the call that is anyway recorded for quality assurance purposes.

The tool can guide the customer-care staff and help ensure a more satisfying experience. It can also predict if the customer is indeed satisfied by analysing their response.  

Its other product is Akeira, a speech-based virtual assistant software. Rather than search for something by typing it, doing a voice query is easier. Data from Google shows that 20 per cent of queries on Android devices are voice searches. Sachdev says data also shows that 75 per cent of searches on a mobile lead to a call. So, rather than search, get the details and then place a call, you can do a voice search on the go, connect and talk with the business seamlessly.

Their third product is a biometric authentication technology using voice called amVoice.

Uniphore’s products can process over 25 languages and 150 dialects, including global languages. Its products have helped serve four million users in India as well as the Philippines and the UAE. 

“Speech is ubiquitous and the main reason for the evolutionary success of the human race,” says Sachdev. Interestingly though, speech analytics was not the problem the founding duo set out to solve initially. “We were technologists who had built a communication software product. While we had a good solution, we were young and did not understand the business aspects.”

When the duo met Dr Ashok Jhunjhunwala at IIT-Madras, he asked them to rethink the problem. “We moved to Chennai in 2007 and for one year just watched and studied how people, especially in rural areas, used their mobile phones,” he explains. Even SMS-based access was quite rare and the main usage was through speech in regional language.  

Power of speech

‘Can the digital divide be bridged by using speech to communicate with machines?’ was what led to Uniphore. The company was incubated in 2008 at the IIT Madras Research Park incubation centre.

“We were not speech-recognition experts when we started and hence did not know that what we had was a very difficult problem to solve. Ignorance was bliss.”

Teaching machines to learn a language requires training them on words, tones and dialects and deriving meaning based on the context. The company uses assisted self-learning so that the machine continues to add to its knowledge base.

While deep technology is the main driver of success, Sachdev notes that having the guidance of good mentors and the support from the incubator was critical.

“Being patient and offering technology guidance in the early years, bringing in the right growth partners for business planning and funds for expansions have all helped us.”

Sachdev is upbeat about the future of technology and innovation. “The worst-case scenario for the future is machines that learn fast, overtaking and controlling humans,” he says earnestly.

But a more likely world is where the power of knowledge is made available to more people, reducing costs and improving satisfaction. He is also upbeat about innovation in India. “We are in the first wave of entrepreneurship in the country. Start-ups are solving everyday issues. The next wave will be deeper research and solutions to larger problems.”

Published on June 23, 2016

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