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Nuance Communications, Inc.
|Traded as||NASDAQ: NUAN|
|Founded||1992 as Visioneer|
|Headquarters||Burlington, Massachusetts, United States|
|Key people||Chairman & CEO: Paul Ricci|
|Products||OCR, speech synthesis, speech recognition, PDF, Consulting, Government Contracts|
|Revenue||$1,118.9 million (FY2010)|
|Employees||12,000 (35 offices worldwide)|
Nuance Communications is a multinational computer software technology corporation, headquartered in Burlington, Massachusetts, USA, that provides speech and imaging applications. Current business products focus on server & embedded speech recognition, telephone call steering systems, automated telephone directory services, medical transcription software & systems, optical character recognition software, and desktop imaging software. The company also maintains a small division which does software and system development for military and government agencies. In October 2011, unconfirmed research suggested that its servers power Apple's iPhone 4S Siri voice recognition application.
As of 2008, the company is a result of organic growth, mergers, and acquisitions. Most notable was the "merger" of ScanSoft and Nuance in October 2005. Before the merger, the two companies competed in the commercial large scale speech application business. The officially termed "merger" was a de facto acquisition of Nuance by ScanSoft, though the combined company changed its name to Nuance following the transaction. Before 1999, ScanSoft was known as Visioneer, a hardware and software scanner company. In 1999, Visioneer bought ScanSoft — a Xerox spin-off — and adopted ScanSoft as the company name. The original ScanSoft had its roots in Kurzweil Computer Products, a software company that developed the first omni-font character recognition system.
In September 2005, ScanSoft Inc. acquired and merged with Nuance Communications, and the resulting company adopted the Nuance name. For a decade prior to that, the two companies competed in the commercial large-scale speech application business.
ScanSoft history (origins)
In 1974, Raymond Kurzweil founded the Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc. to develop the first omni-font optical character recognition system — a computer program capable of recognizing text written in any normal font. In 1980, Kurzweil sold his company to Xerox. The company became known as Xerox Imaging Systems (XIS), and later ScanSoft.
In March 1992, a new company called Visioneer, Inc was founded to develop scanner hardware & software products, such as PaperPort. Visioneer eventually sold its hardware division to Primax Electronics, Ltd. in January 1999. Two months later, in March, Visioneer acquired ScanSoft from Xerox to form a new public company with ScanSoft as the company name.
- 1974 — Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc founded to develop the first omni-font optical character recognition system
- 1980 — Xerox buys Kurzweil Computer Products and runs it as Xerox Imaging Systems (XIS), and later ScanSoft.
- Mar. 1992 — Visioneer, Inc founded to develop scanner hardware & software products.
- Jan. 1999 — Visioneer sold its hardware division to Primax Electronics, Ltd.
- Mar. 1999 — Visioneer acquired ScanSoft from Xerox and adopts ScanSoft as new company-wide name.
Prior to 2001, ScanSoft focused primarily on desktop imaging software such as TextBridge , PaperPort and OmniPage. Beginning with the December 2001 acquisition of Lernout & Hauspie, the company moved into the speech recognition business and began to compete with Nuance.
Nuance history prior to the 2005 merger with ScanSoft
Nuance was founded in 1994 as a spinoff of SRI International's Speech Technology and Research (STAR) Laboratory to commercialise the speaker-independent speech recognition technology developed for the US government at SRI. Based in Menlo Park, California, Nuance deployed their first commercial large-scale speech application in 1996. Their initial route to market was through call centre automation. Call centres had just centralised the branch-office telephone handling function throughout many large companies. The highest cost of running call-centres is the cost of staff. Early projects were completely developed by Nuance to prove the commercial practicality and benefits.
Early Nuance applications ran on WindowsNT-based and Solaris operating systems, and commonly relied on Dialogic boards for the telephony hardware.
- 1994 — Nuance spun off from SRI's STAR Lab
- 1996 — Nuance deployed its first commercial speech application
- 2000 April 13 — Nuance files initial public offering on the Nasdaq under the symbol NUAN
- 2000 November 15 — Nuance acquires SpeechFront voice instant messaging company for $10.5MM in cash and stock.
In simple terms; the technology produced allowed a computer to determine what a speaker was saying within a specific and limited vocabulary of phrases. Its key advantage over technologies such as ViaVoice was that the system did not need training for the specific speaker. This permitted the use of the system, so-called Speaker-Independent Natural Language Speech Recognition, (SI-NLSR or just NLSR) for call automation.
The limited vocabulary was typically in the region of a few thousand different variations of phrases. In complex systems this could be in the low millions. At the time these systems were pushing the limits of computer processing power in commodity Intel x86 servers until the early noughties.
During the late 1990s and into the 2000s Nuance competed against other NLSR vendors including Philips SpeechPearl, SpeechWorks and other smaller players which were typically geographically focussed such as Vocalis in the UK which used proprietary PCI cards with DSPs onboard to improve the efficiency and density of the system.
Each speech-recognition engine provider had to determine how to convert written text into sounds. Determining how written text is spoken is a hugely challenging task in itself. Languages are "modelled", samples of real spoken-language is recorded and analysed to create a language model. The higher the quality the language model the better the experience of the user, especially in complex interactions. Different language models were required for different dialects such as Flemish being a variant of Dutch, or Swiss German being a dialect of High-German. Different models were also created for different qualities of telephone connection. Europe's Philips had by far the largest language coverage which included Flemish and Welsh - although these may have been paid for by an EU grant or subsidy.
Later, Nuance sold licenses (training and consulting) to their technology to third parties including independent software vendors and IVR vendors who would build applications on top of an IVR platform. SpeechWorks on the other hand would typically deliver the application with the technology or with a group of key delivery partners. The technology was integrated into most of the leading IVR products from Avaya, Nortel Periphonics, Envox, Syntellect and many others. The requirements of telephony reliability meant many of these solutions ran on various versions of UNIX.
Nuance 7 was launched in the late nineties and was an efficient network-distributed NLSR speech recognition solution; it ran on Unix and Windows. Nuance 8 added Statistical Language Modelling - an adaption of technologies used in technologies such as ViaVoice to improve the range of phrases that the system could recognise at the expense of greater implementation cost and complexity. Nuance 8.x series also introduced the W3C vocabulary definition language GrXML in addition to and eventual replacement of Nuance's proprietary and very concise Grammar Specification Language, GSL.
Nuance 8.5 was the last point release before the take-over by ScanSoft.
These systems were significantly different to the technology used in consumer speech recognition products such as ViaVoice, which is now also a Nuance product.
Nuance marketed their brand and technology at call centre exhibitions although they rarely delivered solutions directly relying on ISV & telecom manufacturing partners instead, such as Nortel Periphonics, Avaya, Syntellect and others. Nuance provided a core component of speech recognition solutions for call automation and leveraged partners to deliver solutions. Many problematic solutions were developed by traditional telephony developers building speech solutions. designing and developing speech solutions requires a different skill-set and mind-set to that of traditional DTMF solutions.
For a couple of years prior to the takeover by ScanSoft, Nuance started selling solutions directly, including their Call-Steering product which was predominantly a call-centre call-routing product which determined the skill group required for the call based on responses to reasonably open questions asked of the caller.
Nuance 9.0 is the first release (excluding service packs) of the recogniser product since the acquisition and is an amalgam of the technologies acquired from various companies including Philips Speech Pearl, Speechworks, Nuance Recognizer and others. Further information is not known about this product
Simplistic Speech Recognition Process
Developer creates a list of all the phrases to be recognised; or a process to generate these in real-time.
Partnership with Siri and Apple Inc.
Siri is an application that combines speech recognition with advanced natural language processing. The artificial intelligence, which required both advances in the underlying algorithms and leaps in processing power both on mobile devices and the servers that share the workload, allows software to understand not just words but the intentions behind them.
Telephony application process
- User calls the telephony application for call automation
- Application loads the phrases for the application and prompts the user to provide speech input (asks a question), and opens a stream from the telephony input to the speech recognition software.
- User speaks and this is streamed to the recogniser.
- recogniser returns a number of potential results with probability for each one that it is correct.
- Determines the start of speech input
- uses audio techniques to remove background noise
- slices the audio into small sections (10 - 100ms in length)
- determines the sound in each slice
- matches the combination of sounds for the spoken phrase with the possible sound combinations provided by the possible phrases
A typical Nuance Recognizer configuration required four or five applications to be started, often monitored by a sixth application.
- Nuance License Manager: kept a watch on the number concurrent speech calls in use.
- recognition client: it is the interface between the IVR speech path and the speech recognising software, the recserver - The recclient can be developed into the IVR software itself.
- distributes the load over the recservers as required to balance load and to provide fault-tolerance.
- where the speech is compared and processed against known vocabulary.
- an application that dynamically adds words or phrases to an expected vocabulary for recognition.
- a Windows service or Unix Daemon that monitors and maintains the above processes, restarting them if required.
Except for the watchdog which should be running on all the nuance speech servers, the other processes may be spread over a farm of servers, connected by an IP network with low latency and high-bandwidth, usually a dedicated LAN segment. The resource manager directs which resources it thinks are least utilized.
Nuance vs. the competition
The key difference between Nuance and Speechworks products of the time
was that they used different methods for "End-Pointing", the process for determining the beginning and end of speech. Nuance looked for a change in "Voice-Energy" - essentially a significant change in volume within a specific set of frequencies, whereas SpeechWorks tried to look for sound combinations that were likely to be speech based on the phrases pre-loaded into the system. It probably seems that the Nuance method was crude but this was implemented due to the limitations of the computational power available in computer servers at the time and the need to provide high-density applications - i.e. not require too many servers for a deployment.
Prior to the 2005 merger, ScanSoft acquired other companies to expand its business. Unlike ScanSoft, Nuance did not actively acquire companies prior to their merger. After the merge, the company continued to grow through acquisition.
ScanSoft acquisitions prior to the merger
- Mar. 2000 — Caere Corp., of Los Gatos, California — $145 million. Caere had developed OmniPage (scanner and OCR software.)
- December 2001 — Lernout & Hauspie, of Ieper, Belgium, Speech and Language division — $39.5 million
- This acquisition occurred following Lernout & Hauspie's bankruptcy proceedings. Previously, Lernout & Hauspie had acquired these speech technology companies: BBS, Berkeley Speech Technologies (1996), Centigram Communications Corporation, Dragon Systems (2000), FDC, and Kurzweil Applied Intelligence (1998).
- January 30, 2003 — Royal Philips Electronics Speech Processing Telephony and Voice Control, Dialogue Systems — $35.4 million
- Philips had previously acquired Voice Control Systems, which had in turn had acquired Pure Speech, Scott Instruments and VPC.
- August 11, 2003 — SpeechWorks, Inc., of Boston, Massachusetts, — $132 million
- SpeechWorks' major products were speech recognition and synthesis systems, which were later merged with Nuance's speech product line. It had previously acquired Eloquent Technologies, Inc., of Ithaca, New York in 2000 for $17 million and T-Netix.
- January 2004 — LocusDialog, of Montreal, Quebec
- May 2004 — Telelogue, Inc., of Iselin, New Jersey - $5.4 million
- November 2004 — ART Advanced Recognition Technologies, Ltd., of Tel Aviv, Israel – $21.5 million
- November 2004 — Rhetorical Systems Ltd., of Scotland — $6.7 million
- May. 2005 — MedRemote Inc., of Westmont, Illinois — $6.2 million
- February 1, 2005 — Phonetic Systems, Ltd., of Burlington, Massachusetts and Israel — $35 million
ScanSoft merges with Nuance; changes company-wide name to "Nuance Communications, Inc."
- September 15, 2005 — ScanSoft acquired and merged with Nuance Communications, of Menlo Park, California — $221 million.
- October 18, 2005, the company changed the name to "Nuance Communications, Inc." 
Nuance acquisitions after merger
- March 31, 2006 — Dictaphone Corporation, of Stratford, Connecticut — $357 million.
- December 29, 2006 — Mobile Voice Control, Inc. of Mason, Ohio.
- March 2007 — Focus Infomatics, Inc. Woburn, Massachusetts.
- March 26, 2007 — Bluestar Resources Ltd.
- April 24, 2007 — BeVocal, Inc. of Mountain View, California — $140 million.
- August 24, 2007 — VoiceSignal Technologies, Inc. of Woburn, Massachusetts.
- August 24, 2007 — Tegic Communications, Inc. of Seattle, Washington — $265 million. Tegic developed and was the patent owner of T9 (predictive text) technology.
- September 28, 2007 — Commissure, Inc. of New York City, New York — 217,975 shares of common stock.
- November 2, 2007 — Vocada, Inc. of Dallas, Texas.
- November 26, 2007 — Viecore, Inc. of Mahwah, New Jersey.
- November 26, 2007 — Viecore, FSD. of Eatontown, New Jersey.
- May 20, 2008 — eScription, Inc. of Needham, MA — $340 million plus 1,294,844 shares of common stock.
- July 31, 2008 — MultiVision Communications Inc. of Markham, Ontario.
- September 26, 2008 — Philips Speech Recognition SystemsGMBH(PSRS), a business unit of Royal Philips Electronics of Vienna, Austria for about 66 million euros, or $96.1 million. The acquisition of Philips Speech Recognition Systems sparked an antitrust investigation by the US Department of Justice. This investigation was focused upon medical transcription services. This investigation was closed in December, 2009.
- October 1, 2008 — SNAPin Software, Inc. of Bellevue, WA — $180 million in shares of common stock.
- January 15, 2009 — Nuance Acquires IBM's patents Speech Technology rights.
- April 10, 2009, — Zi Corporation of Calgary, Canada for approximately $35 million in cash and common stock.
- May 2009, — the speech technology department of Harman International Industries.
- July 14, 2009, — Jott Networks Inc. of Seattle, WA.
- September 18, 2009, — nCore Ltd. of Oulu, Finland.
- October 5, 2009 — Ecopy of Nashua, NH. Under the terms of the agreement, net consideration was approximately $54 million in Nuance common stock.
- December 30, 2009 — Spinvox of Marlow, UK for $102.5m comprising $66m in cash and $36.5m in stock.
- February 16, 2010, Nuance announced they acquired MacSpeech for an undisclosed amount
- July 2010, Nuance acquired iTa P/L, an Australian IVR and speech services company.
- November 2010, Nuance acquired PerSay, a voice biometrics-based authentication company for $12.6 million.</ref>
- June 2011, Nuance acquired Equitrac, the world leader in print management and cost recovery software.
- June 2011, Nuance acquired SVOX, a speech technology company specializing in the automotive, mobile, and consumer electronics markets.
- July 2011, Nuance acquired Webmedx, a provider of medical transcription and editing services. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
- August 2011, Loquendo announced Nuance acquired it. Loquendo provided a range of speech technologies for telephony, mobile, automotive, embedded and desktop solutions including text-to-speech (TTS), automatic speech recognition (ASR) and voice biometrics solutions. Nuance paid 53 million euros.
- October, 2011, Nuance acquired Swype, a company that produces input software for touchscreen displays, for more than $100m.
- December 2011 - Nuance acquired Vlingo, after repeatedly suing Vlingo over patent infringement. The Cambridge-based Vlingo was trying to make voice enabling applications easier, by using their own speech-to-text J2ME/Brew application API.
- March 2012 - Nuance acquired Transcend Services. Transcend utilizes a combination of its proprietary Internet-based voice and data distribution technology, customer based technology, and home-based medical language specialists to convert physicians’ voice recordings into electronic documents. It also provides outsourcing transcription and editing services on the customer’s platform.
- June 2012 - Nuance acquired SafeCom, a provider of print management and cost recovery software noted for their integration with Hewlett-Packard printing devices.
- September 2012 - Nuance acquired Ditech Networks for $22.5 million.
- September 2012 - Nuance Acquired Quantim, QuadraMed’s HIM Business - a provider of information technology solutions for the healthcare industry
- October 2012 - Nuance Acquired J.A. Thomas and Associates (JATA) - a provider of physician-oriented, clinical documentation improvement (CDI) programs for the healthcare industry
- January 2013 - Nuance Acquires VirtuOz.
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