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What’s that in the Clouds? Microsoft! And TellMe, Too!Listen to this article in TTS, powered by Loquendo

Microsoft and TellMe make a bid for hosted speech with new innovations.
By Eric Felipe-Barkin - Posted May 5, 2009
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Looking to utilize price reductions and propel themselves into the cloud, Microsoft and its speech-focused subsidiary, TellMe, have launched what the companies are describing as “core speech and network innovations” to their enterprise offering.

Included among the new features are:

  • multi-slot technology that allows callers to speak entire sentences or phrases, with the system listening for relevant keywords;
  • “online adaptation” technology, based on data from billions of calls, that enables the system to adapt to a caller’s acoustic patterns within the first three seconds of speaking; and
  • a new voice font, Zira, that was designed for consistency in voice quality and is promised to deliver a more conversational experience.

TellMe and Microsoft see the announcement as an important and significant step. It comes as TellMe prepares to celebrate the two-year anniversary of its acquisition by the software giant—a deal that was seen by some analysts as a serious bid on Microsoft’s part to become competitive in the speech industry.

“It is committed to improving its speech engine and providing more intelligence,” says Elizabeth Herrell, vice president at Forrester Research in a recent interview with DestinationCRM.com. “The leader in the speech engine world is Nuance, and it looks like Microsoft is putting a lot of development efforts into becoming a stronger competitor.”

Daniel Hong, lead analyst at Datamonitor, offers a different assessment.

“Unless Microsoft decouples [its] engine and sells it separately, I don’t see [the company] posing any major threat to Nuance in the automated speech recognition market,” he says.

Hong points to Microsoft’s past ventures such as Speech Server—which offered automatic speech recognition, text-to-speech, and an interactive voice response (IVR) system bundled with the platform. He attributes its lack of success to the offering being “too [information technology] centric.” Microsoft, does not, and still does not, Hong asserts, have the expertise or heritage in telephony required—though he also cautions to distinguish between Microsoft and its subsidiary TellMe.

“If you’re looking at all the decision makers for speech and IVR, they’re not IT people—especially not at a large enterprise,” he says.

Hong concedes that should TellMe go into the hosted contact center market providing not only IVR, but also intelligent routing and virtualization, Microsoft would finally have its play in the contact center market.  However, Hong remains sober over the significance of such a move for the Redmond, Wash.-based company at large.

“TellMe is a great company in in-the-cloud speech,” Hong says. “[It’s] very much a competitor. But [it’s] one subsidiary of Microsoft. They’re not Microsoft.”

“[Microsoft] is still deeply entrenched in the traditional model of software license and premise-based deployments,” he adds. “They do have some hosting and in-the-cloud services, and it does seem like they’re moving more aggressively down that road, but it’s going to take a while before there’s an entire paradigm shift towards the cloud within Microsoft as a whole.”

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