Microsoft - Tellme - What does it mean?

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Randy Savicky
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Microsoft - Tellme - What does it mean?

Microsoft has acquired Tellme Networks, a hosted provider of speech-recognition solutions. I had dinner with some Microsoft reps last night at Tao Restaurant in NYC and asked about the pending Tellme deal, but their lips were sealed and they wouldn't even acknowledge such an acquisition was pending. But I saw right through their poker faces, and with a wink and a smile they changed the subject. I was actually meeting with them to check out a demo of Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 which combines VoIP, presence, and other features for a "unified communications" experience. I'll have more on my thoughts on Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 in the near future. Some very interesting thoughts at that.

In any event, I tried to press Microsoft a bit further as to how a Tellme acquisition would fit into their unified communications strategy. I recall saying "Hypothetically speaking, if Microsoft were to acquire Tellme, what sort of synergies would you see between Tellme's hosted speech recognition and Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007?" Microsoft responded "hypothetically speaking, a user could pick up their phone or LCS (Live Communications Server) client and use speech recognition to initiate a call". So indeed, enterprises that deploy OCS 2007 could leverage Tellme's speech-recognition technology. I hypothesized "so a user could pick up their phone, speak a contact name, the call is routed via SIP to a Tellme server for speech analysis, and then the call could be either connected directly via Tellme, or the SIP-based call could be handed back to the enterprise with the "speech rec analysis" attached and then have the customer premise PBX or SIP gateway initiate the call to the proper contact. Some of the Microsoft representatives simply nodded their heads in agreement that this was indeed "theoretically" possible.

Indeed, Microsoft could leverage Tellme's hosted speech-rec techology to offer VoIP termination as well. Imagine you are using your WiFi-enabled Windows Mobile 5 phone. From the Microsoft LCS softphone client, tou press a button and speak the name of the person you wish to call. The call is routed over IP to Tellme which does the voice analysis. Tellme can then route the call directly to a SIP-based ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider), thus bypassing the cell phone carriers altogether. Since Microsoft is sending traffic to the ITSP, Microsoft can negotiate with them and perhaps get a slice of the revenue pie. Perhaps Microsoft making billions in VoIP isn't as far-fetched as it seems?

Of course, besides simple speech-rec dialing, Tellme is used in more advanced applications, including speech-rec package tracking used by FEDEX (800-GOFEDEX), 800-555-1212 (directory assistance), 411 by Cingular, 800-MERRILL for stock quotes/portfolio info, 800-DOMINOS (pizza), and more. Their popular free mobile search services on 1-800-555-TELL can be used to find local businesses, driving directions, sports scores, stock quotes, weather, news, movie show times and more. Tellme is essentially a hosted IVR/auto-attendant with speech-rec capabilities. This could be a huge value-add for businesses that want speech-rec capabilities to improve customer service, but don't want the expense or hassle of maintaining an internal speech-rec IVR solution.

According to Microsoft's release mobile search will be a key component of this acquisition: "Potential areas of development resulting from the deal will range from hosted voice-enabled customer service solutions that complement Microsoft’s existing unified communications offerings to voice user interfaces in existing Microsoft products to search services on mobile phones that integrate with Live Search for mobile offerings. In addition, developers and partners will be able to build new speech-based solutions on top of a scalable, standards-based voice-enabled applications platform".


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