Most Innovation Solutions Awards 2004

As we announce our second year of Speech Technology Magazine's Most Innovative Solutions Awards, there's one thing that remains unchanged: the speech technology industry is consistently raising the bar. And that means that to keep ahead of the bar it is key to stay up-to-date with the leading edge of change.


With our Most Innovative Solutions Awards, we aim to help you identify industry pioneers as a way to encourage and promote growth and progress within your industry.


At STM, we define an innovative solution as a solution that demonstrably increases customer self-service, improves worker efficiency or utilizes speech in a creative format for an automated solution. These deployments are changing the way companies do business and proving that speech can play a major role in a company's customer service, marketing and sales strategy. Out of 30 entrants, we've selected the seven solutions that demonstrate vivid ways that business is changing because of speech. From a voice-enabled telephony application for parents of school-aged children designed to help keep tabs on their child's progress, to a speech-to-text-to sign language technology used to provide emergency room accessibility for deaf patients, these seven Most Innovative Solutions Award winners are empowering organizations in exciting ways.


Remember, this is not a formal or scientific survey. It's simply our expert judging panel's subjective selection of the companies who have offered the most cutting-edge solutions in the past year.


Be sure to look for many of these companies to discuss their thoughts about using speech solutions at SpeechTEK 2004 in New York City this September.


Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co.

The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. wanted real-time information on shipment pick-ups and deliveries from field personnel. The typical scenario was that after train crews dropped off cars each day, they radioed the information back to BNSF's headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. These reports would then be typed into DB2 databases running on IBM mainframe computers. Even though BNSF could communicate with train crews over engine-cab radios hooked into a private microwave system, the system provided "static information."


The company viewed this approach as outdated, cumbersome and incapable of meeting the demands of customers and railroad management for near real-time data. To improve this process, BNSF initiated a project to track pick-up and delivery of its rail cars using speech recognition and speaker verification technology from ScanSoft. Voice Train Reporting allows field personnel to report train arrivals, departures, pick-ups and setouts via microwave radio or cell phone using speech recognition and speaker verification - to ensure that the appropriate person is reporting the train information - providing real-time information and greater customer satisfaction.


"With the implementation of our VTR system to capture real-time data, we expect to achieve greater operational efficiency and significantly improve overall customer satisfaction. Ultimately, we are improving our communication practices for the railway by streamlining the train reporting process, leveraging leading-edge speech recognition and speaker verification technology on a non-traditional telephony environment…engine-cab radios," say Jeffrey Campbell, vice president, technology services and CIO at BNSF.

The Bottom Line…

The VTR application automatically turns voice radio calls into data, capable of integration into the company's computer systems.


Calibrus Inc.

Calibrus Inc. needed a cost effective way to automate its third party verification process. Using SER's SERTAINTY Quality Assurance solution, Calibrus can monitor, evaluate, measure, extract and respond to specific customer interaction recordings. SERTAINTY eliminated the arduous manual process of monitoring only a fraction of the captured calls with the ability to monitor all customer interactions.


Third Party Verification services have stringent federal and state regulations that must be followed by obtaining very specific information. This information must be recorded and archived for easy retrieval by supervisory, quality assurance or regulatory personnel at any given time. SERTAINTY works with Calibrus' existing call recording system to pinpoint specific calls that need attention and forwards them to the quality assurance staff for further review.


"As a leading Third Party Verification Service Provider that delivers specialized services for Telecommunications Carriers, being able to provide the lowest cost with the most stringent quality assurance measures available is a significant value proposition for Calibrus. Applying innovative tools and processes to help our customers do more business is what sets us apart. We currently process approximately one million live operator verifications each month, not including automated IVR transactions. With more major carriers switching to our service, SER's SERTAINTY automates the process of reviewing calls to ensure script adherence, achievement of key performance indicators and overall call quality. Using SERTAINTY, our goal is to create a new standard of quality assurance," says John Bennett, sales and marketing manager of Calibrus Inc.


The Bottom Line…

Improving your business without breaking the bank - what more could you ask for?


DTE Energy

DTE Energy selected Viecore Inc. to implement a first-of-its-kind speech solution that automates new electric and gas service and service disconnect (service turn-on/turn-off). This VoiceXML solution which uses Nuance 8.0 on an IBM Websphere Voice Response platform also includes account inquiry, outage reporting, events status, restoration estimates, call back, PIN, call routing, meter reading, up front customer ID and payment arrangements.


"DTE Energy was looking to reduce call center costs and provide customers with more self-help options. Turn-ons, disconnects and transfers of service are consistently among the top five customer transactions in our call centers. These particular transactions involve multiple steps of information gathering and verification. Voice recognition technology has allowed us to successfully guide our customers through this more complicated transaction," says Joseph E. Franzen, Jr., manager at DTE Energy.


The Bottom Line…

Getting what you want from your energy company - without jumping through hoops.



Liberty Wireless

Liberty Wireless needed a cost-effective way to automate routine billing and account management calls. BeVocal's solution, built with Nuance ASR, was customized and deployed in less than 30 days, handles all of their customer service calls, providing account information and processing credit card payments. BeVocal greatly improved Liberty's automation rate over the existing IVR, providing high ROI as well as a great customer service solution.


When customers are late in paying their bills, they are "hotlined" any time they try to place a call to anyone. The hotline application explains that they must pay their bill, and then gives them the choice of paying by cash or paying by credit card. If they want to pay by cash, they can ask for payment centers by naming one of more than 45,000 cities in the grammar or they can say a ZIP code. The application will locate the nearest payment centers, tell them where they are and give them the phone number of that location. Alternatively, they have the choice of paying with a credit card using their voice.


"Liberty's pay as you go offering is a very high call volume, high touch customer product. We needed to drive down customer service costs while still providing great customer care. BeVocal was able to quickly deliver customized, off-the-shelf applications that fit our business needs, pleased our customers and had an immediate impact on our bottom line," says Don Charlton, president of Liberty Wireless.


The Bottom Line…

The hotline is triggered when a Liberty Wireless phone is out of minutes - which prevents you from ringing up a huge bill unbeknownst. (No more surprise charges!)



New York City Department of Education

The New York City Department of Education boasts the largest school system in the country, with nearly 1.2 million kids, more than 1,200 schools and 80,000 teachers. The school system is organized into 10 regions across the city, with each region containing two, three or four community school districts within their geographic boundaries.


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have made parental involvement in their child's education a priority and they are interested in taking advantage of ways that technology can be used to achieve this goal. One way the NYCDOE is using technology to get parents more involved is by working with Microsoft Corp. and Intervoice Inc. to develop a voice-enabled telephony application for parents to check such things as their child's attendance record, course grades and lunch menu for the day. Much of this information is already available to the parents via the NYCDOE Web site, but the NYCDOE is using speech technologies to enable access to this information without a computer.


Jean Desravines, executive director for the Office of Parent and Community Engagement, says, "The Chancellor has made increasing parental involvement a core tenet of his Children First reform. Communicating with parents is vitally important to reaching that goal. The DOE is happy that it will be able to utilize Microsoft Speech Server 2004 to offer information to parents via the telephone."


The Bottom Line…

Parents will be able to keep up-to-date on their child's progress any time they have access to a phone - no computer needed.



Upper Chesapeake Health

Upper Chesapeake Health receives more than 75,000 emergency room patient visits a year at its two hospitals serving communities in northeast Maryland. For patients who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, a sign language interpreter is provided when needed. The problem is, these service providers are not always quickly available in emergency situations. Upper Chesapeake Health staff members realized that their communication with deaf patients seeking emergency services could be improved.


A comprehensive research process brought them to a solution: iCommunicator, a tool that converts in real-time: speech-to-text, speech-to-video sign language, speech-to-computer-generated voice, and text-to-computer-generated voice or video sign language. This technology uses Dragon NaturallySpeaking as its speech recognition engine.


Martha Knutson, general counsel and compliance officer for Upper Chesapeake Health, says, "We're in a service industry here. Patient satisfaction is crucial. And one of the primary drivers of patient satisfaction is whether or not our patients feel they are being teated with dignity and respect. And good communication is a big piece of that. To the extent that this type of technology improves our communication, it also improves our ability to treat our patient and provide them with the dignity and respect they deserve. People come back to a place where they are treated well. In our experience, assistive technology makes very good business sense."


The Bottom Line…

Speech technology at its best - an application that improves the health and lives of people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.




Verizon needed an application that could increase customer satisfaction by providing a variety of self-service options accessible through the power of voice, manage extreme, unanticipated spikes in customer activity and launch a very large and complex VoiceXML-based application in just five short months using SpeakFreely technology in a VoIP architecture capable of handling more than 10,000 calls per day at Verizon's east region repair center.


Dubbed the National Operations Voice Portal, the system is deployed in a N-Tier architecture across three unique data centers. Within each data center a telephony layer implementing Cisco VoIP provides interconnection between the PSTN and VoiceGenie Gateway servers, providing call processing, control and call flow execution. Automatic speech recognizers from ScanSoft provide scalability for speech recognition.


The result: When Hurricane Isabel hit the East Coast on September 10, more than 30,000 calls to the system were completely automated. Also, during the blackout August 15, the system was able to handle the unexpected spike and avoid putting customers on hold.


Dr. Judith Spitz, senior vice president of network and national operations systems at Verizon says, "The repair application is one of the toughest because the customer is in some sort of 'trouble' before they even call. The challenge is to find a way to provide world-class self- service in a way that leaves the customer feeling like they've been cared for in a positive manner. Combining best of breed technologies like VoIP, VoiceXML, open grammars and state-of-the-art dialogue design with great teamwork within Verizon and across the vendor community resulted in a big success for Verizon and its customers."


The Bottom Line…

Improved Automation + Help When You Need It = Happy Customers.

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