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Cisco Partner Summit 2017 debuts Spark conversational assistant

Channel execs at Cisco Partner Summit 2017 said they see potential in Spark Assistant, a new conversational assistant that uses machine learning technology from MindMeld.

DALLAS -- Cisco has expanded its Spark collaboration product line with a conversational assistant that aims to make meetings easier, the company said. Cisco partners described the new conversational assistant, Spark Assistant, as fitting into their voice and video conferencing offerings.

The company unveiled Spark Assistant at Cisco Partner Summit 2017, which wraps up Nov. 2. Spark Assistant is based on machine learning technology from MindMeld Inc., an artificial intelligence company Cisco acquired earlier this year. MindMeld focuses on applying AI to chat and voice assistants. Spark Assistant, slated for release early next year, will let customers use voice commands to launch meetings via Spark or join a WebEx personal meeting room.

However, Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Applications Group, said Spark Assistant's ultimate objective is not conference room control, but the ability to provide "a virtual team member" that can help people get work done. In future iterations, the technology will be able to track action items for follow-up, he noted.

Joe Berger, collaboration practice director at World Wide Technology Inc., said Spark Assistant's AI capabilities provide an opportunity for his company to evolve the integrations it builds to customize the Spark platform. He sees a future in which Spark Assistant can interact with line-of-business applications such as Salesforce or ServiceNow -- the AI tool might be used to pull up sales pipeline data in a meeting, for example.

Jim de Poortere, CEO of Viju Inc., said Spark Assistant "will definitely blend into our overall solution." Viju provides visual communication and collaboration offerings and views Spark Assistant as a way to expand the capabilities of meeting rooms.

Spark Assistant will make its first appearance on conference room products such as Cisco Spark Room 70, which also debuted at Cisco Partner Summit 2017. Eventually, it will move on to other products such as Cisco Spark Board, a digital whiteboard product.

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