Latest Trends in Speech Technology, CRM, IVR, Collaboration and Cloud Computing

Speech analytics in greater demand

At the recent SpeechTek 2011 conference in New York I gained some great insight into the state of speech technology. For example, Jeff Schlueter of Nexidia told me his company’s speech analytics solutions have been in greater demand in this current economy as the desire to control costs has led to increased adoption of speech analytics. In addition, the company has released version 9.0 of its Enterprise Speech Intelligence product suite which cuts the TCO in half and allowing for customers to handle even larger amounts of data.

Voxeo goes big

The idea of handling larger systems was echoed by Dan York of Voxeo who told me the latest version of the company’s new VoiceObjects 11 solution has scaled for a mix of global carrier and enterprise customers to handle 20k ports. More importantly the ports are all linked into a private cloud of sorts allowing central reporting across the VPN, a central console, full resiliency, redundant failover and one-click roll back in case there is a problem which quickly needs to be undone. York explained the company has also rolled out Prophecy 11 which adds HD voice, IPv6 and fax support. One good bit of news is wideband audio makes it easier to recognize voice because as York explains, “There is a lot more data to analyze.”

New player Novauris intrigues

Competing against established players like Nuance, Microsoft and Loquendo isn’t easy but Novauris, a newcomer to the speech technology space has already inked some deals with tier one OEMs and carriers and they have a specific niche where they think their performance is best in class. Specifically, accessing very large sets of databases such as addresses, names of people, product catalogues, IPTV and electronic programming guides, local search and directory assistance. The company works with Angel and SpeechCycle in the call center space as well – doing name and address recognition in the cloud and passing back the data via XML in real-time.

Industrial speech apps boost productivity

Wavelink Corp has been in the mobile device management space for many years and its Avalanche software has been upgraded to 5.2 providing increased capabilities in terms of reporting, organizing devices, security, location-based services and two-way messaging between administrator and user devices. Moreover, in a conversation with Jay Cichosz, he tells me the company has been enjoying success in the industrial market where the company’s terminal emulation solutions help workers more efficiently manage packing and shipping logistics via handheld devices. Moreover, by speech enabling these apps – his customers have seen productivity gains as floor workers no longer have to glance at a watch or PDA to see what they need to do next – they can now just listen and respond with voice as well. The company’s Speakeasy voice solution was upgraded this past March and differentiates itself by being priced very competitively and doing the speech processing on the mobile device in order to save precious bandwidth on factory-floor networks which typically aren’t designed to handle bursts of multimedia traffic.

Microsoft to abstract devices for more seamless experiences

Last year, Microsoft introduced me to their Xbox Kinect gaming system with built-in speech recognition and I was very impressed. To date though the gaming system has been better known for its motion detection – allowing the body to be the controller than its speech technology. This will potentially change soon as speech has now been put into the SDK.

In my meeting with Grant Shirk, I also had a chance to use Windows Phone 7 Mango and as Shirk explained some areas of speech integration are apps, search and address book. By the way, the new Mango OS supports 500+ new features 4 of the top 15 requests for improvements included speech.

I asked Shirk about his thoughts regarding HTML5 and he believes there is a lot of opportunity for speech to be integrated into HTML5 and moreover, he said companies HTML5 investments generally start with customer interactions and he said, “Speech is a natural interface.” When queried about where Microsoft sees itself in these spaces, he replied, “We are in a great position to provide services to help companies build cross-channel experiences independent of device.” To me that makes the company sort of a super-middleware provider of the future and in some ways, Adobe’s new Edge tool I just covered will be competitive with this vision.

SAP feeds customers feeds

SAP is best known for a suite of software solutions used to help companies get products from manufacturing to the customer, allowing them to collect money and pay taxes – and just about everything in-between. In a conversation with Anthony Leaper and Dr. Volker Hildebrand, they told me how the company sells their solutions in bite-sized chunks and also makes rapid-deployment solutions available for delivery in 6-8 weeks. Sales, service and marketing are just some of the areas where such packages are available.

One of their latest announcements is Sales onDemand – a feed-based system which brings structured and unstructured data together in a collaborative, Facebook like way. Similar to Salesforce Chatter or Cisco Quad, the company is targeting very large companies and will also release Service onDemand. These two products will work together allowing salespeople to see a feed of customer late payments or service requests. Leaper believes SAP has an advantage over Salesforce because his system is more integrated allowing all objects in the CRM database to be seen while he sees Chatter as a bolt-on solution.

The challenge for SAP is they are late to the game but they may see these new releases as a way to protect and cross-sell to their installed base and speed-to-market has to be balanced with interoperability across the company’s ever-expanding software suite.

Turning Oscar Madison communications into Felix Unger

The Odd Couple was a favorite TV show of mine as a kid featuring a very Messy Oscar Madison who was roommates with a very neat Felix Unger. I couldn’t help thinking about these two when I met with Alok Kulkarni of Cyara Solutions and his customer Sam Jackel from Westpac, Australia’s largest bank with 6-7 million customers. Cyara provides next-generation premise and cloud-based solutions for simulating, testing and monitoring IVRs, voice biometrics, outbound dialers, voice callback and other contact center systems and applications.

And what they did for the bank was to help them take disparate solutions handling IVR, speech, complex routing algorithms, Websphere, java apps and more and integrate them more efficiently to dramatically improve customer satisfaction. A three-year project resulted in customers being able to get to the information they want via phone in only 14 seconds. This is down from 90 seconds – a significant improvement. To get an idea of what challenges the company had, every time there was a customer interaction, messaging needed to traverse a number of different firewall hops and pipes between Telstra, IBM and Westpac networks causing potential packet loss, latency and jitter.

In addition, by using automation, the need for human testing has been reduced by 50% – allowing these testers to be deployed for more sophisticated testing.

The bank is thrilled and says they view Cyara as a key plank in their strategy around quality and efficiency and use the company for end-to-end regression, systems integration, functional, stress, performance and load testing and real-time monitoring of the customer experience in the production environment. You generally don’t get such a large company to give such a glowing testimonial to a relatively new company so I thought it worth sharing.

Zoho’s Appleization

In a conversation with Sridar Vembu and Raju Vegesna of Zoho they explained to me their take on the future of computing. Sit down before continuing because this is a really big deal. The software market is going through a gut-wrenching change. Consider, even the most complex apps can be put out in a few weeks because of the maturity of the latest development tools which can be constructed atop existing frameworks. And once released, distribution of these solutions has been commoditized through app stores. Basically, software is on the verge of being commoditized and if we learned anything in the PC Vs. Apple war it is that a slick, simple-to-use interface is worth far more than a commoditized solution.

Subsequently, Zoho, a company with a suite of 30+ cloud-based solutions is working on making their interfaces even simpler to use. I got an early glimpse of their new CRM software and was very excited about the new and much-cleaner interface which loses no functionality in its pursuit of Apple-like simplicity.

What I like best is the ability to tie together email, office apps, CRM and everything else so users don’t have to bounce around between a myriad of apps on the desktop to get their work done. An early pioneer in the cloud space, Zoho is now up to 1,500 people and is profitable and experiencing 100% YoY growth.

In two weeks you can expect a new solution, Contact Manager which the company bills as CRM for the beginner. For more on Zoho, check out this video interview TMC’s Erik Linask conducted with the company late last month in San Jose.

So there you have it – if you made it this far, thanks and be sure to catch up on other articles from Speechtek from TMC’s Tammy Wolf:


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