It is difficult to start this column without a reference to Wildfire the personal assistant launched in the nineties we all thought would take over the world. Of course by “we” I mean the people attending trade shows in the telecom space in the nineties. Wildfire was an auto attendant system allowing you to speak to the machine as if it was human. It would understand you and perform many functions for you. You could ask it to dial people and further conference others in.
I couldn’t help but think back to Wildfire when I spoke recently with the management team of Excendia. They have developed what I call Wildfire 2.0. They joke about the road they are walking on being littered with the dead bodies of companies trying to make better personal assistants. The jokes are spot on
They think they are doing it better than others before them and moreover they tell me their use of open standards such as CCXML, XML and SIP lowers costs and subsequently makes it much more likely they will be successful. They didn’t mention it explicitly but Moore’s law obviously helps products become more and more powerful at less and les cost. This is very important in the world of speech technologies. One look at the iPhone will probably be all you need to truly understand what I mean.
Aside from the above reasons for success the company’s founders tell me the world is more mobile than ever. They are right. If you don’t believe it take a look at RIM’s stock chart. The benefits of a virtual receptionist utilizing text to speech is you can be productive while driving which is an important time to be working with traffic become more of a problem around the world.
In other words if your Blackberry is important on the plane, Excendia is important in the car. Of course you can use the solution while you are at work as well if you choose.
In addition this sort of solution allows the handicapped to effectively communicate via speech. A disabled person could have e-mail read to them and respond with their voice which gets sent in a sound file to the recipient.
I witnessed the multilingual system which shares the same name as the company working flawlessly during a 15 minute demo. I am further told it works with current solutions you have today so forklifts are not necessary. For example there is POP and IMAP support built in. Yes there is even Lotus support if you need it.
How can you purchase the solution? As a service, or a hardware solution actually. Furthermore, I am told the company’s partners will decide pricing.
I am the biggest fan of virtual assistant technology. I am just waiting for it to become mainstream. Microsoft is playing in the space as is Cisco and many others. Someone will hopefully get the solution right and we will become more productive and efficient as a result. Will it be Excendia? I don’t know. What I do know is they understand the players who came before them and where each went wrong. They will do it better. Now the market will tell Excendia and others whether the desire for this technology exists in great enough numbers to make virtual assistants mainstream.

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