EU gives Microsoft the nod for $16 billion acquisition of Nuance

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | December 27, 2021
Artificial Intelligence Business Affairs European News Health IT
The European Commission has approved Microsoft's acquisition of Nuance
Following an investigation, this month the European Commission unconditionally approved Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Nuance.

In its reports on the decision, the commission said the transaction would not raise competition concerns in the European Economic Area for transcription software, cloud services, enterprise communication services, customer relationship management, productivity software or PC operating systems.

Microsoft said in April it was looking to acquire Nuance for $16 – $19.7 billion when including net debt, in an all-cash payment, and integrate Nuance’s speech and conversation AI software into its Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare technology. It would enable the solution to automate note transcription for doctors and help accelerate the adoption of cloud-based AI tools among providers. The acquisition is considered to be the largest made by the company in years.

Both companies filed for approval from the European Commission’s competition bureau last month, and the regulator had until December 21 to approve the deal or launch a deeper investigation.

The decision not to block the deal comes just a little more than a week after the agency asked customers and competitors to write up concerns on if and how the acquisition would negatively impact their own businesses.

Nuance says it currently serves 77% of U.S. hospitals. In any of its deals, it can use customer data to advance its voice recognition systems. Since big cloud vendors do not have unrestrained access to customers’ data for research and development, acquiring Nuance offers Microsoft a unique opportunity but is a concern to some.

One concern was that acquiring Nuance would provide Microsoft with unrestrained access to customer data in the 77% of U.S. hospitals that Nuance serves. Another suggested was that Microsoft could force its Office suite on Nuance customers if it were to package them together.

The U.S. Justice Department and Australian Competition Commission conducted their own reviews in June and October, respectively, but the EU one was the most extensive.

The company plans to use Nuance’s AI solutions to enhance the offerings of its Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, which has a range of capabilities for managing healthcare data at scale. Among these products are Dragon Ambient eXperience, Dragon Medical One and PowerScribe One for radiology reporting. All are built on Microsoft Azure and are designed to recognize and transcribe speech in doctor office visits, customer service calls, and voicemails, and can integrate with EHRs to reduce clinical documentation.

As part of the deal, Microsoft will pay $56 in cash per share of Nuance. While initially expecting to close the deal by the end of this year, the companies announced last month that they were pushing the timeline to the first quarter of 2022.

The acquisition has been approved unanimously by both companies’ board of directors. Mark Benjamin will remain CEO of Nuance and report to Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Cloud and AI at Microsoft.

Benjamin told HCB News back in April that the deal reflects growing demand in healthcare and enterprise AI markets for advanced conversational AI and ambient solutions. “To seize this opportunity, we need the right platform to bring focus and global scale to our customers and partners, to enable more personal, affordable and effective connections to people and care. The path forward is clearly with Microsoft, who brings intelligent cloud-based services at scale and who shares our passion for the ways technology can make a difference.”

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