One Size Doesnt Fit All
In his article Wrap It Up (Speech Technology Magazine; September/October 2003), Steve Ehrlich summarized some of the current packaged application offerings, application components, configurable applications, shrink-wrapped applications and applications-as-a-service. The article also outlined the benefits of packaged applications; such as lower cost of ownership, faster deployment, lower risk and greater savings.
Packaged applications do indeed offer these benefits, and many customers are realizing that packaged applications help them address the issues of shorter time to market, scarcity of voice user interface design talent, and cost reduction, because development costs are shared by using the same application multiple times with many different customers. These benefits are critical if the market is to be expanded to include smaller companies and individual developers selling solutions into this market. Many in this industry have offered a variety of packaged call flow templates focused on different industries such as brokerage and travel. Also, horizontal modules aimed at common functions across industries have been created and offered. Different types of packaged applications offer different features and functions that correspond roughly to different target markets they are designed to address.
However, packaging alone is not a panacea for companies in need of a speech recognition solution. The key for application success will be in finding a balanced approach to meeting clients needs through the judicious use of both custom components and re-usable packaged offerings.
For example, a call flow and application structure that targets a vertical market would need to contain the most common features and functionality offered in that industry. It may offer the connectivity for back-end data processing but require that integration into an organizations infrastructure be done separately as custom work. In this case, a packaged application provides call flow functionality that is common to the industry. One benefit to the organization is that a common approach should lead to best practices, with little effort expended re-inventing different ways to accomplish the same task. Ultimately, standardization of the user interface should bring an increase in end user adoption. However, a strictly packaged application approach leaves little room for one organization in the market to offer features that would yield a competitive advantage against their competitors. This may be an issue, depending on the industry and the organizations competitive philosophy.
An alternative way to market packaged applications is to offer the ability to customize features around reusable modular components built to address horizontal functions needed in many industries, instead of a single vertical market. An example of this would be a module to perform a PIN/Password reset, which would vary little regardless of the industry in which it is deployed. These types of modules could be used within larger applications that are custom or packaged as well, which allows an organization to focus on creating a unique offering while still reaping benefits from the packaging of some components.
The market acceptance of packaged solutions is entirely dependent upon how we as an industry market packaged applications and judiciously promote their benefits.
Immediately following Y2K, many application-hosting companies offered speech recognition applications and based their business model on the concept of application reuse, shared infrastructure and a quicker time to market similar to web applications. Many of those companies failed, because the packaged applications did not exist at the time or because the adoption of speech technology was slower than expected. Intermittent or short-term applications fit well with reusable packaged applications and a shared ASP model due to a premium on a short time to market. There are other applications that fit well into a hosted model, but require dedicated service level agreements and more customization based on client needs.
Each customers needs are different and in the end, their needs will dictate the best solution. Not all will find the same return on investment or acceptance from their use of a packaged application as they might with a custom application, or from a combination of the two approaches. Companies should seek to create a competitive advantage through their self-service applications and broader channel access. As they do so, the best solutions will likely be balanced offerings that are part packaged and part custom application that meets their needs. The solution is ultimately about understanding customer needs and the business problem they are trying to solve. The answer lies in the need for both custom and packaged solutions and a balanced approach.
Ron Owens is director, software application engineering, professional services, VUI, at Intervoice Inc. and a board member of AVIOS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.