Collaboration Nation

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Call centers that don’t already have some sort of automated self-service solution will soon reach a breaking point. We live in a rapidly evolving technological society in which companies are churning out new products, updates, and fixes at a mind-numbing pace. Naturally, this is forcing the average consumer to become more tech-savvy. Technology is advancing at such a high rate that even those who are already tech-savvy sometimes struggle to keep up. And when combined with the demands of our instant gratification society, it’s no surprise that even technophiles will begrudgingly call customer support.

As the frenzied pace of technology development continues, companies will find it increasingly more difficult to keep up with high customer call volumes. Soon speech technology in contact centers won’t be a nice-to-have but a must-have customer support solution. "Five years from now we won’t have enough people to be agents," Roberto Pieraccini, chief technology officer at SpeechCycle, told Speech Technology editors. "It’s stupid to have humans do things that machines can do."

This is why we bring you our cover story, "NLP on Fertile Ground" (page 14), by Managing Editor Leonard Klie. This story underscores the promise of natural language processing along with the caveats.  While there are clear benefits to NLP, it’s a big undertaking. "It takes a lot of effort to get complete coverage of all that people might say, and it’s very expensive," says a consultant quoted in the feature.

The story also suggests that many in the industry welcome "efforts to automate the specifications of grammars, models, and anything else that will allow programmers and developers to standardize and reuse grammars that are frequently repeated in just about every application." I’m sure speech technology vendors aren’t willing to do this on their own because they stand to lose a lot of revenue, but it will help the industry immensely.

Outside the United States we’re already seeing groups forming to share speech technology investments. In Sue Ellen Reager’s column, "The Hidden Revenue in Translation," she reveals that the European Union is "opening the largest language database in the world to the public—for free—so that European products can be produced in eight to 16 languages at little or no cost." Read her column (page 40) to learn about four roadblocks that are preventing this from happening in the U.S.

It’s unfortunate that the U.S. is slow to create open working environments where people can collaborate and share their work. However, I suppose as open standards become more prevalent, we’ll see more collaboration. This will undoubtedly bring the industry to new heights.

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