Uniphore is a global Conversational AI technology company. Started by IIT Madras alumni in 2008, it enables businesses globally to deliver transformational customer service by providing an integrated suite of software products for Conversational Analytics, Conversational Assistant and Conversational Security. Uniphore secured Series B funding in October 2017 led by John Chambers, IIFL and other existing investors.

A lot of articles today on various startup blogs contain a point of connecting “Bharat” to India. “The Next Billion” is also one of those phrases that are usually accompanied in these articles. Undoubtedly, the Jio effect has fueled this entire “Bharat” connectivity in a manner such that internet usage in India can be bifurcated into the pre and post Jio era. Reliance Jio held 42.02 percent share of the internet subscriber base with 215.25 million consumers as of June 2018. And this is where the key to Bharat lies, reports suggest Jio’s subscriber base is likely to touch over 400 million in the next two years.

Over the last one year, as internet connectivity has become cheaper and data speeds have increased, almost every B2C company is excited over the prospects of capturing this new audience, popularly called as “The Next Billion”. Although this new set of customers who are logging in on the Internet for the first time come from very diversified backgrounds, there still is one thing common amongst them, they do not speak English!

A quick Google search reveals that there are 22 major languages in India, written in 13 different scripts, with over 720 dialects! 70% of India’s population is not living in Tier I cities but in small towns and villages. They face a huge communication gap as they are not able to participate in the digital revolution because of the challenges of literacy and language.

Language is the first step to break into a market like India. Once that is broken in, you have at least 700 to 800 million users. The purchasing power is a different matter altogether, but having such a huge base excites every founder who desires to start-up in India. The 450 million Hindi speakers are twice as big a market compared to India’s 220 million English speakers.

Every company that wants to scale in a country like India needs to make sure that its services are also accessible to people who do not speak English. Then how do you reach out to this population which might not be able to use SMS services nor understand English?

This is where the Speech analytics and deep learning market comes into the picture. Using artificial intelligence and automation to understand the voice can be a great solution to bridging the problem of digital divide. The speech Analytics market share has seen exponential growth in recent years – with just 24 implementations in 2004 to a market valuation of $0.81 billion in 2017. It is expected to clock a CAGR of 28.3 percent in the coming decade.

Uniphore:- Leveraging AI & automation to understand “India”

Realizing that almost 70 percent of the population in India was disconnected from the so-called digital revolution, Umesh Sachdev and Ravi Saraogi set on a path of solving this large-scale problem. The duo quickly realized that not only was there a lack of connectivity but there also existed a pervasive lack of English literacy, and people did not know how to use technology as simple as sending SMS or making calls.

“Everyone knows how to talk in the local language. So, we thought if we can make computers and phones talk in all local languages, then a mass of people can start using these digital devices to connect to the Internet and do a variety of things like banking, healthcare, and e-commerce,” said Umesh.

In 2008, the startup was initially incubated at IIT Madras and was supported by Prof Jhunjhunwala (IIT Madras), with the idea of using speech analytics software to bridge the digital divide.

auMina- Uniphore’s Speech Analytics Technology

Customer conversations are a gold mine of information. Such conversations provide great insight to customers’ satisfaction, their loyalty, or their likelihood to recommend a company and its products. At a time when this digital generation has very high expectations for customer service, companies need to pay attention to what their customers are telling them.

auMina, a technology by Uniphore extracts the true voice of the customer. This is achieved through its sophisticated language model which detects keyphrases along with multiple variants, accents, and pronunciations in the calls. In combination with pitch/voice modulation and positive or negative spoken keyphrases in the calls, auMina captures the emotion of the customer which is categorized as happy, angry, frustrated, or irate. The emotions of the customer, agent’s interaction on the call and call metadata with varied weights can be configured and aggregated to form a comprehensive score to measure business outcomes.

It also identifies upselling, cross-selling opportunities and drives revenue through better collections and point areas where the agents need to improve. The best-of-breed core speech engines are used to ensure widest language coverage (100+ languages) globally including 17 Indian languages. “auMina is offered in SaaS model (subscription model) on cloud infrastructure to make it cost effective, yielding superior performance with high scalability,” explains Umesh.

amVoice- The Voice Biometrics Play

The company is also venturing into voice biometrics with the earliest implementations in the rural areas where smartphone penetration is quite low. It saw early use cases around micropayments and daily wages issued with voice print authentication. It has since then been adopted in BFSI sector across the globe as a unique and secure authentication method.

Like fingerprints, every individual has a unique vocal cavity that makes every voice unique. Uniphore’s amVoice™ delivers a 99.5 percent accuracy of identifying an individual by doing a spectral analysis of the voice stream and comparing it with the stored print. The voice cannot be mimicked or stored and played back as the liveliness of the voice is checked along with 18 other parameters to ensure there is no vulnerability

Virtual Assistant ‘Akeira’ By Uniphore

Uniphore’s akeira™ is a virtual voice assistant that provides omnichannel touch points (IVR, mobile, web and more) for the enterprise customers to get in touch with the customer care centres 24/7. At the backend, akeira™ provides a middleware platform that leverages best-of-breed speech and NLP (Natural Language Processing) engines to understand the purpose and intent of voice interactions and responds intelligently to the customer. akeira™ caters to the query or request or complaints raised by the customers by integrating with various enterprise knowledge base systems and CRM systems in the backend.

Umesh gives an example of its use, “For instance, an insurance company could use akeira for answering customer queries. Say a consumer has a query that he is retiring in five years, he intimates the amount of money he has saved, and is now asking for a recommendation for the best way to invest. Akeira can find the right answers for him.”

It is much like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Since it is AI- and deep recognition-enabled, it can speak 80 languages including 17 Indian vernacular languages. It basically allows consumers to have intelligent conversations with brands/enterprises.

AI and machine learning are integral to all their solutions whether it is in the patented core speech tech layer or the product layer. “At the core tech layer, AI and deep ML are used in our speech recognition engines, noise reduction, speaker separation & identification, sentiment analysis, emotion detection, and NLU/NLG components,” one of the founders said in an interview.

At the Product Layer AI and ML drives faster, smarter product provisioning, configuration and faster extraction of insights using advanced pattern recognition, anomaly detection and automated root cause analysis.

Traction and Growth

Uniphore serves in the medium-to-large enterprises segment, with an average ticket size ranging in a few thousand dollars per month. Hence, it has not yet focussed on SMBs. Large banks, airlines, telecom companies, hospitals are the ones who use Uniphore. Prominent among these are American Express, Axis Bank, SBI, Airbus, and ITC. Globally, it services close to 70 enterprises with active customers. It now has a presence in eight countries and four geographies, which include India, Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Philippines), Middle East (UAE, Saudi Arabia), and North America.

Uniphore gains an edge over its competitors because of its ability to process a number of languages. Coupled with a SaaS model, deep use of AI for automating many services, a short time to market, and the lower cost of ownership is what he thinks make for a unique proposition.

Uniphore’s products have the potential to take over the jobs of thousands of employees in the call center industry. But Umesh is not worried. “They will get automated because machines are getting smart enough to do that. But that same mass of the working population will re-skill and tend to other jobs. I am not worried or panicked, as this has happened throughout the history of the human race.” This indeed stands for an optimistic outlook on AI driving humans to progress!

Uniphore received an undisclosed amount as its first funding by a network of Angel investors including Nagaraja Prakasam, M.V Subramanian, Ray Stata, and Yournest Angel Fund. Uniphore then raised series A funding in April 2015, which was led by Kris Gopalakrishnan (co-founder of Infosys) and then received a new investment the same year in June from IDG Ventures. The company raised Series B in October 2017 led by John Chambers, IIFL and other existing investors. Deloitte Technology Fast 50 India identified Uniphore as the 17th fastest growing technology company in India and one of the top 500 fastest growing companies in the Asia Pacific.

Written by Shail Daswani