Shopping for a Speech Solution Partner?

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As speech applications continue to evolve, the complexity of these implementations has increased. The upside of this evolution is that it is now possible to complete complex transactions using speech automation. The challenging aspect of this progress is that the increased complexity has heightened the dependency on peripheral technologies and processes, such as intelligent call management, computer telephony integration, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), complex host interfaces, reporting, and analytics. In other words, there is more to a complex speech application than a good voice user interface and some speech software. That said, it is critical that your organization defines the requirements for your solution prior to entering into the RFP process.     

So where and how can enterprises educate themselves on all of the elements contained in large, complex speech applications, and how should they go about selecting the right partners to help them implement their solutions? Following are a few suggestions on the types of questions to ask partners as you prepare the groundwork for your multifaceted, automated customer contact solution.

Does your organization have experience in the technologies and processes that my solution requires?
This seems like a basic question to ask; however, it frequently goes unasked or unanswered. Don’t assume that all of your prospective partners will have firsthand experience in every technology and process your solution requires. Some follow-up questions can include:
•    Have you delivered similar speech solutions on your own?
•    Can we contact clients for whom you have implemented these solutions?
•    What has worked and what hasn’t on your complex implementations?
•    How do you ensure that you continually incorporate lessons learned?
If the answers you receive are nebulous and incomplete, don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions.

Do you have in-house expertise in all of the disciplines to support my solution?
This is a good question to ask because you need to know if your partner will be outsourcing and, if so, to whom. It is also essential to understand what specific activities will be carried out by each third party. Additional questions to ask in this area are:
•    With which partners do you typically work?
•    How do you communicate effectively with partners in a multivendor project?
•    How long have you had these partnerships, and can you specifically point to implementations you have done together in the past?
•    Will you provide my organization with a list of chosen partners at the beginning of the project?

Are all of the technologies, processes, and potential outsourcing arrangements that my solution requires included in your bid?

This is probably one of the most important and complex questions that you need to ask during the partner identification process. Specific topics to drill into when asking this question are:
•    Have you included all of the necessary hardware and/or licensing costs to support your speech solution in your bid?
•    Are there ongoing maintenance charges with your solution?
•    Can I pay by the hour or can I purchase a block of hours?
•    Are there any additional costs that could arise due to these partnering arrangements?
•    Do you just pass through costs incurred with your partner vendors, or do you mark them up?
•    Are reporting and ongoing analytics costs covered in the bid?
•    If they are not, what will they cost and who will perform these tasks?
•    Can we see some reporting examples?

Finally, when contemplating a multivendor speech deal, it’s important to ask who will be responsible for meeting service-level agreements.

The RFP and partner-selection process can be difficult and time-consuming, but it can also be rewarding if you are able to identify the right solution partners for your project. It is important to gain clear answers to all of your questions. Be wary of nebulous and incomplete responses, and follow up to get more detail. Be sure to press your vendors on the experience issues. Remember your application will only be as successful as your partnership, so you can never be too diligent in your partner selection.

Aaron Fisher is director of speech services at West Interactive, where he oversees the design, development, and implementation of speech applications. He can be reached at asfisher@west.com.

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