Confirmed: Nuance Has Bought Virtual Assistant Specialist VirtuOz To Ramp Up Its Enterprise Services

TechCrunch has received a copy of a memo indicating that Nuance, the speech and natural language technology giant that also powers Apple’s Siri voice assistant, has made another acquisition: VirtuOz, a developer of intelligent virtual assistant services for online sales, marketing and support — dubbed “Siri for the enterprise” — that was founded in France and is now co-headquartered in the Bay Area’s Emeryville.

We are still looking for more concrete confirmation and a price for the deal, which, if it has indeed closed, has not yet been made public — except for this single line in Wikipedia’s list of Nuance acquisitions. Nuance has already responded to say it “won’t comment on rumors or speculation.” Nuance currently has a market cap of $7.2 billion and is traded on NASDAQ. Update: we have now heard back from a source very close to the deal. It officially closed yesterday (Wednesday). And now Nuance has also said that it will be announcing formally “in the coming weeks” but that it is not disclosing price. (In other words, I’m still trying to dig up the price.)

To date, VirtuOz has raised $20.4 million in venture funding, backed by French VC Galileo Partners as well as Mohr Davidow Ventures and Inventures Group — although as CEO and founder Alexandre Lebrun notes in his LinkedIn profile, he himself “bootstrapped the company in Paris [and] coded the initial product from scratch (based on an innovative, proprietary NLP approach and Machine Learning techniques)” before building out the development team. Today, VirtuOz counts PayPal, AT&T and Symantec among its list of top-shelf customers using its online virtual assistant services.

According to what we’ve seen, Nuance is making VirtuOz part of its Enterprise division, which focuses on customer self-service solutions that currently brings in revenues of $330 million annually from some 3,000 enterprise customers, covering some 12 billion customer interactions per year.

We understand that the full VirtuOz team led by Lebrun is making the transition, and that Nuance will keep all of VirtuOz’s online products intact and operational. (Nuance has a lot of experience integrating acquisitions: it’s made dozens over the years.)

Nuance also plans to integrate more of its own solutions with VirtuOz’s. Specifically, that is likely to include Nina, a virtual assistant solution from Nuance designed specifically for use in mobile apps, launched in August last year.

In addition to bringing some key customers to Nuance, VirtuOz will also bring is a way to extend the Nina experience to the web, and equally to give VirtuOz a route to developing more mobile services for its web clients. The addition will mean that Nuance can offer services across phone-based voice recognition, web, mobile, social and chat channels, covering speech recognition, text-to-speech, voice biometrics and natural language solutions.

The social aspect, indeed, is one to watch. It’s still early days for natural voice technology, but there are signs that we are going to see a lot more uses of this going forward. One of the more interesting is this tip from analyst Jeremiah Owyang that vendors are developing “proactive response” systems using technology from companies like VirtuOz to extend it “beyond chat agents, to deploy them in Facebook and Twitter streams to support brand interactions.”