TMA Associates
Specialized Digital Assistants and Bots
Vendor Guide and Market Study


William Meisel

TMA Associates

(July 2016, 268 pages)

 

A digital assistant, as the term is used in this report, uses “natural language” (a human language in speech or text) to interact with a user of a digital system. As the term suggests, the digital assistant aims to be like a human personal assistant. General personal assistants, such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa try to do almost everything for you. But companies, as well as content and application developers, can develop specialized digital assistants to connect with customers. This report discusses over 170 vendors that can help with that task.


Alternative terms for digital assistants have proliferated: “intelligent assistants,” “intelligent agents,” “bots,” “personal assistants,” “avatars,” “virtual agents,” “virtual assistants,” “Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs),” “robots,” and more. The term “bots” is often used for specialized applications in messaging services, where the bots are reached by sending a text message in natural language to an application.


In some cases, interaction with a computer system may be in natural language, but not identified as a digital assistant. A customer service call center that answers your call with the equivalent of “How can I help you?” or “Please tell me why you are calling?” is an important example. In effect, this functionality is a digital assistant without a name, and is considered as such in this report.


The maturing of natural language interpretation and speech recognition technology, as well as the usual continuing drop in the cost of computer power, has led to many companies providing this alternative to their customers, from chatbots on web sites to voice assistants on mobile phones. The trend has accelerated rapidly as the messaging services provided tools to build bots (Facebook claims 11,000 bots have been developed) and the general digital assistants such as Alexa and Cortana support connecting with outside company’s specialized assistants. This trend, in effect, will make a company having a digital assistant as much as a necessity as a web site, as people increasingly seek information through these channels rather than through web search.


More generally, the Conversational User Interface (CUI), supported by natural language processing and speech recognition when voice interaction is allowed, is a major trend. As the Graphical User Interface (GUI) becomes over-burdened in general and harder-to-use on mobile devices with smaller screens than PCs, the CUI becomes an important overlay that can work alone or supported by the GUI. This revolution in user interfaces is an inexorable trend forced by the increasing complexity of the software and services we use.


The Digital Assistant report looks at the growth of the market created by the use of natural language to interact with digital systems, breaking it down over five years by global region and by consumer-facing versus within-enterprise opportunities.


The report also provides a guide to developing specialized digital assistants that represent your company, service, or application with an easy-to-use interface. The 172 vendors that can help you do this are listed by category in this report, with guidance on which may be relevant to you, depending on the level of involvement you want in developing a digital assistant. Obviously, while the discussion centers on how companies can use these resources to develop a digital assistant, it also provides a guide to the landscape for companies that want to participate in providing such resources.

 

Report outline

The sections immediately following this introduction dig a bit deeper into some of the trends outlined and the technology behind them:

  • Introduction: Overview and definitions
  • Digital Assistants: Categories, Strengths, and Limitations: Digital assistants at their core are defined by what they do.
  • Market Segments: Markets are defined by the objective of the digital assistant.
  • The General Personal Assistants: In addition to motivating the growth in the use of the Conversational User Interface, these general assistants are conduits to specialized digital assistants and bots.
  • The Technology: Where we are and where we’re heading: An overview of core technologies, what they can do today, and what to expect in the near future.
  • Examples of natural language applications: Specific examples of deployments, with some examples of resulting savings and service improvements.
  • Picking vendors that match your goal: Alternative ways a company or app developer can create a natural-language digital assistant, ranging from contracting out the entire process (other than specification) to working with a consultant (who in turn is managing outside resources) to hands-on assembly and set-up of the core technology components.
  • Vendors: Companies that can be part of your creating a specialized digital assistant are listed by company and discussed individually. Introductory sections help you navigate this reference section:
  1. a.     Full-service vendors: A quick introduction to vendors that can help you all the way to deployment.
  2. b.     Summary table: A list of all companies covered with categorization and web sites.
  3. Vendor description: Detailed discussions of 170 companies that can contribute to building a digital assistant.
  • Market size and evolution: Estimates of market size by global region from 2016 through 2020, with separate estimated of the consumer-facing category and the within-enterprise category.

 

The report is intended as a reference, designed to help the reader find desired information quickly as needed. This is particularly true of the vendor section, where there are individual discussions of over 170 companies. The companies are categorized, so that the reader can find options for a particular resource; the companies that provide a full assistant solution are summarized as well in a special section.

A summary table of all the companies includes their web sites and categories.

 

This is the first market study by Bill Meisel and TMA Associates in over a decade. The subject is one that the writer is deeply familiar with, from having written a technical book on machine learning early in his career, founding and running a speech recognition company for a decade, to publishing a paid-subscription monthly newsletter covering applications of speech recognition and natural language processing as an industry analyst and consultant for the last two decades.


Specialized Digital Assistants and Bots:Vendor Guide and Market Study

William Meisel

TMA Associates

(May 2016, 268 pages)