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Apparently some of the hottest items this Black Friday are expected to be various voice-activated speakers and other such home accessories—Amazon Dot or Echo, Google Home and Home Mini, etc. Indeed, if we’re to believe the hype, folks can’t wait to scoop up handfuls of those Home Minis at $29 each, and deploy them liberally around their house, like they were living in a Moscow embassy. I don’t plan to get out of my pajamas before 5 PM on Black Friday, so I’ll assume the retail experts are right about this and proceed directly to the question of what it might mean for the enterprise.

The most obvious effect is that, the more people become accustomed to doing something in their personal lives, the more they expect to be able to do it at work. And if a particular consumer technology catches on, the technology invariably improves that much faster as the providers of the technology compete to offer a better product at a lower price. Which further drives usage and decreases people’s willingness to forgo a technology within their workplace that, as far as they’re concerned, seems unremarkable in their daily life outside of work.

When it comes to the general-purpose use of speech interfaces for the enterprise, we may see the greatest application in the conference room. Indeed, many vendors of room conferencing systems and applications are already adding voice interfaces to their products, with the aim of making these historically complicated systems more user friendly. It also makes sense because this is an application that’s tied to facilities, which is basically what these home speakers are as well.

Whether voice interfaces really do turn out to be the hot item this holiday season, voice technology is likely to grow in the enterprise. That’s why our new track at Enterprise Connect 2018 focuses on Speech Technologies. The sessions are aimed at helping you understand the basics of speech recognition, natural language processing (NLP), text to speech (TTS), and speech to text (STT), and how they are being incorporated into enterprise communications and collaboration systems today—as well as what to expect in the coming 12-24 months. In addition, our annual Innovation Showcase program will focus on Speech Technologies as well.

Besides the sessions within the Speech Technologies track, I expect we’ll see speech interfaces figure into discussions in our Video & A/V track, as well as in the sessions devoted to Contact Center & Customer Experience. These are both areas where speech interfaces have logical early-adoption use cases. Additionally, since Speech Technologies’ component elements—NLP, TTS, STT—are powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics, our speech technologies content will likely also fuel discussion of the growing role of AI in communications.

One of our Speech Technologies session leaders, consultant Robert Harris of Communications Advantage, pointed out to us early in our planning cycle that the notion of “enterprise-grade” really is highly relevant when it comes to speech technologies. Robert pointed out that if, at home, your Alexa or Siri misunderstands something you say or blurts out some non sequitur, it’s just kind of amusing and you get on with your day. But if a speech engine is representing your enterprise and it can’t perform as promised within a business context, it’s a serious problem. That’s the threshold issue that Robert will address in his session, “Are Speech Technologies Ready for the Enterprise?

I’m looking forward to learning more about the true state of speech technologies for the enterprise. I hope you can join us in Orlando!