Microsoft buy AI firm Nuance for US$16 billion to boost healthcare business

NEW YORK: Microsoft said on Monday it would buy artificial intelligence and speech technology firm Communications for about US$16 billion, as it builds out its cloud strategy for and enterprise customers.

The deal comes after the companies partnered in 2019 to automate clinical administrative work such as documentation and as Microsoft tries to extend its leadership in vertical cloud solutions in major industries including healthcare.

“This acquisition brings our technology directly into the physician and patient loop, which is central to all healthcare delivery. The acquisition will also expand our leadership in cross-industry enterprise AI and biometric security,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said on an investor call.

Microsoft’s offer of US$56 per share represents a premium of 22.86 per cent to Nuance’s most recent closing price. Nuance shares were up 16.8 per cent at US$53.24 around midday.

Nuance, known for pioneering speech technology and helping launch Apple’s assistant Siri, has been doubling down on healthcare and enterprise AI. The company has spun off and sold a number of less profitable business units.

“Nuance has been in the midst of an unprecedented strategic turnaround the last few years under the leadership of CEO Mark Benjamin and we believe the company represents a unique asset on the healthcare front for” Microsoft, Dan Ives, analyst at Wedbush wrote in a note on Monday.

“We also believe Microsoft can further integrate Nuance’s advanced speech technology throughout its consumer and enterprise ecosystem over the coming years to leverage this M&A move.”

With operations in 28 countries, the Burlington, Massachusetts-based company reported US$1.5 billion in revenue in fiscal-year 2020.

The company said it serves 77 per cent of US hospitals, providing intelligent solutions including clinical speech recognition, medical transcription and medical imaging.

Benjamin will remain CEO of Nuance and will report to Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Cloud & AI at Microsoft, the company said.

The deal follows Microsoft’s recent US$7.5 billion acquisition of gaming company ZeniMax Media, and reports that Microsoft was in talks to buy messaging platform Discord, which also allows live audio events.

A deal for Nuance would be Microsoft’s second-biggest, after its US$26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn in 2016. Including net debt, the all-cash transaction is valued at US$19.7 billion.

Goldman Sachs is the financial adviser to Microsoft, while Evercore advised Nuance.

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