Speech Services for Carrier-Grade Systems
The telephone has been a trusted communications device for more than 100 years. But with the advent of the Internet, information is literally at our fingertips. Businesses are looking for the ultimate communications channel, combining the reliability and convenience of the telephone with the cost-savings and personalization capabilities of the Web. By applying the benefits of the Internet to the telephone, the Voice Web can change the way businesses interact with their customers, and the way service providers deliver applications to businesses. The open nature of Internet technology, functionality and content enables the rapid creation of innovative business voice applications that can be accessed by any telephone, thus extending the value proposition beyond the simple ability to listen to online information or surf the Web by phone. The Voice Web is prompting a transformation of the telecommunications industry, making the telephone not merely an effective communications device, but a powerful information access tool. The explosive growth in the voice applications market is attributable to several factors, including high demand from enterprises, network service providers and wireless carriers. Enterprises are looking to carriers for phone applications for sophisticated customer interaction and business productivity applications. In turn, carriers are looking to technology vendors for value added applications to offer high-margin services for customers. A single, open-standards platform for multiple applications includes the endless possibility for speech service innovation and allows service providers to leverage significant cost of operations benefits. The existing infrastructure and services for voice communications industry represents 1.5 billion telephones and a $500 billion worldwide market. Riding on this infrastructure is a large voice applications market consisting of messaging, customer interaction, productivity and other enterprise and carrier solutions. The market for voice applications is expected to grow to $30 billion and $12.5 billion by 2005 in the service provider and enterprise markets, respectively. While the demand for voice applications is growing, the combination of a complex, inflexible and expensive voice application infrastructure and the small community of vendors that supply this infrastructure, is inhibiting the growth of the voice application market. In the face of these challenges, the focus is on creating open standards and PC-based solutions that will enable the rapid development, deployment and management of multiple voice applications that are more flexible and cost-effective. More than ever, open standards are becoming requirements for every facet of technology, accelerating the innovation and acceptance of new ideas. Voice Web development tools and resources are offered by leading vendors, which offer service providers and enterprises comprehensive development, test and deployment tools environment. Tools that cater to the new voice developer as well as the experienced developer by providing a GUI, drag-and-drop toolkit for application creation and a Web-based test and debug environment. Also available are design time tools for voice application development such as grammar syntax checkers, audio utilities, call trace capabilities, application logging and other capabilities designed to assist the developer in rapidly developing voice applications. In light of the demand for new applications and the challenges facing such demand, developers of voice applications are also looking to new development and deployment models based on the PC and Internet architectures to drive innovation. Modularization of telephony and speech technologies and their integration within PC architectures using industry standards is leading to significant price/performance improvements in voice applications and communications. Moreover, the advent of client-server Voice Web protocols such as VoiceXML, SALT and CCXML has enabled an Internet-like explosion in voice application development and delivery. In the service provider market, revenue-enhancing voice services include advanced toll free services such as network announcements, menu routing, call transfers and calling card verification. Service providers currently face isolated silos of proprietary systems for each application and labor intensive development, provisioning and maintenance of applications leading to high total cost of ownership and customer support. New Voice Web infrastructure solutions deliver unified, open standards platforms which support a variety of applications on a common, centrally managed infrastructure that seamlessly bridge to the future of IP telephony and VoIP transport. These new systems serve a unique and enormous market opportunity for replacing traditional IVR equipment (more than 1 million ports) deployed by carriers with software solutions running on commodity telephony hardware. Todays outsourced IVR services remain relatively rudimentary, as enterprises are unwilling to lose control of data and applicationskeeping outsourced IVR adoption to a minimum. Enterprises invest in complex, proprietary, expensive premises IVR, ACD and other voice processing equipment in order to retain control over application development, deployment and changes. Today, service providers serve a mere 15 percent of the $20 billion enterprise market for outsourced telephony and voice services. This low penetration is, in large part, due to the unwillingness on the part of enterprises to sacrifice control of the customer experience and application logic in favor of an all-or-nothing outsourcing model. As a result, carriers have so far been unable to tap opportunities for managed services, stuck instead with simply transporting telephone calls to the enterprise. Currently available modular Voice Web platforms, based on open standards, enable enterprises to outsource the voice application infrastructure while maintaining complete control of their application and customer data. This sudden glut of opportunity allows carriers to attack the managed services market as an extension of their existing revenue enhancing voice solutions, with incremental capital and operating expenses justified by quick returns on these investments. By disaggregating the complexities of telephony and speech from the business logic of applications, the Voice Web enables a cost-effective and secure means of managed application delivery. The emerging trend of midsourcing separates applications from the networks that process calls, allowing corporate data, application logic and rules to remain behind the firewall while innovative voice applications are delivered on a managed network. As a secondary beneficiary of the evolving model, enterprises now have a cost effective way to deploy speech-enabled applications without the headaches of investing in or upgrading proprietary systems. Voice Web software solutions are equally attractive to enterprises as premises-based solutions that unify their Web and voice application infrastructures, and reduce total capital and operating expenses while enabling the delivery of new personalized, Web-driven customer applications. Enterprises continually confront isolated pools of complex and proprietary voice application equipment (~ four million ports) that inhibit rapid introduction of new features and functionality and are hard to manage. Voice Web platforms available today provide fully functional, highly cost-effective, easy-to-manage, premises-based, Web-driven solutions to enterprises that enable the rapid development and deployment of new customer interaction and business productivity tools. Capitalizing on their investment in the Voice Web platform, service providers can use the same platform for internal voice applications, reducing overall operational costs through economies of scale, and management of a single platform. As large enterprises in their own right, carriers use voice applications internally in their own customer interaction, call center and field force automation solutions. Consolidation due to mergers, as well as acquisition of technology over a long period of time, has resulted in the acquisition and subsequent care of multiple silos of proprietary and disparate call center equipment (more than 150,000 IVR ports), creating an infrastructure that is unwieldy to manage and impossible to migrate to new applications. New Voice Web solutions enable carriers to migrate existing and new call center applications to a common, inexpensive infrastructure that is centrally managed while introducing new features and functionality that improve customer service via speech based self-service and personalized outbound notifications. Finally, voice services such as voice activated dialing, directory assistance and consumer and business information portals represent an enormous growth opportunity (more than 800,000 IVR ports by 2005) for wireless and wireline service providers. Today, wireless carriers are highly dependent on consumer markets with low ARPU (average revenue per user) and tenuous customer loyalty. Except for SMS, revenue growth from wireless data services has not so far met with projected expectations, and deployments of 2.5 and 3G networks continue to be delayed. Wireless carriers need immediate revenue sources that do not require massive capital and operating expenditures. By coupling software solutions with off-the-shelf hardware, carriers can target business users with field-proven voice-enhanced information and interaction services that can be deployed with a flexible business model. These combinations dramatically lower the cost of entry and provide higher margins as applications gain market share. As these futuristic tools become increasingly mainstream enterprise voice portals will begin to offer a new generation of premises-based voice response services. Utilizing open standards to layer the functionality and to provide the enterprise developer an environment similar to the familiar Web platform, these portals include scaled down configuration and diagnostic capabilities compared to the existing carrier platform, and focus on simplicity of deployment and integration. Enterprises are enabled to leverage their chosen Web architecture to implement their voice solution, taking advantage of technologies naturally utilized in the Web environment such as personalized application delivery, while reducing overall cost of maintenance and support. Prem Uppaluru is the CEO and co-founder of Telera. He can be reached at email@example.com.