The 2007 Market Leaders
The speech technology industry has matured to a point where prominent leaders have emerged from the pack. To recognize these companies for their trailblazing efforts, we’ve assembled our first annual installment of the Speech Market Leader Awards. These awards feature four vendors in five speech technology categories (speech engine, self-service suite, analytics, professional services, and speech security). Each category features one winner, two leaders, and one vendor contender. We polled industry analysts and consultants and asked them to score each vendor in a variety of weighted criteria. Companies were scored on a scale of one to five (with one being the lowest and five being the highest). Here, you will find the results of these scores and analysis from the industry experts.
■ The Market
In an industry rife with takeovers, acquisitions, and mergers in late 2006 and the first half of 2007, some would say the pool of vendors offering their own speech engines is shrinking at an alarming rate, so much so that in a few years there will only be a handful of players in the entire field. In the last year or so, we’ve seen the emergence of a number of new companies specializing in very niche markets, like videogame development, foreign language translation, mobile applications, and electronic dictionaries. There are a lot of small companies focusing on unique items and doing them very well, our analysts observed. Look for these companies to thrive and build dominance within their specific niches, provided they can avoid being swallowed up by the much larger competitors. In the meantime, industry analysts and consultants point to a much larger effort industry-wide to refine existing technologies as a way for vendors to differentiate themselves. Hot issues right now for R&D include more natural language processing, incorporating a wider selection of languages and accents, more natural-sounding speech synthesis, and even experiments with cognitive psychology and how people communicate.
■ The Leaders
>>> Nuance Communications, which has the largest selection of speech engines in the market, led all competitors in accuracy and the ability to customize and integrate applications, scoring 4.1 and 4.3 on a five-point scale respectively in these categories. "Its solutions are very accurate, and pretty adaptable, but that’s what you expect them to do. After all, it’s Nuance," says Deborah Dahl, an independent consultant and member of the VoiceXML Forum. The company also scored very high in overall reputation and innovation, as it is constantly bringing new products to market. Additionally, "there are a lot of companies willing to partner with it, and that speaks well for the company and its products," says Ian Jacobs, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan. Where Nuance fell short, though, was in its cost. While the company’s solutions are very effective, users should be prepared to pay heavily to get them, which also affected the company’s overall scores in customer satisfaction. Analysts also noted that in the area of research and development, while in-house spending is very low, the company seems willing to make strategic acquisitions when it identifies a void.
>>> IBM is one of those rare companies in the industry that doesn’t loudly trumpet its speech wares, but has quietly developed very strong speech
technologies, our analysts say. "There are a lot less bells and whistles with IBM than with most others, but it really has a very good speech recognition engine," one analyst says. Rather than blowing its budget on marketing, the company is almost unrivaled in its R&D spending, doing a lot more than anyone else not only in new technologies and emerging markets, but also with the psychology and science behind speech. The enormous wealth of information that it gains from that research should boost the company’s position and product portfolio down the line.
■ The Winner
Headquartered in Europe, Loquendo has a lot of experience with international markets and the multitude of languages that make up those markets, which is reflected in its speech engines, according to our analysts. It’s that international expertise that also makes Loquendo the strongest competitor in a corporate environment that is quickly going global. "It’s clearly the best choice for international applications," says one analyst. Loquendo also ranked very high in innovation, as analysts noted that the company’s extensive research has given it much more natural-sounding voices than those of other vendors.
■ Vendor Contender
One company that stands out in price is Voxeo, scoring 4.3 in that area. The company offers many of its speech technologies in a hosted environment, and gives the software away for free to anyone who wants to download it, some analysts observed. That alone is enough to make it a company to watch. "It’s releasing a lot of things for free, which is a very innovative marketing strategy," says consultant and VoiceXML trainer Jim Larson. "It will be interesting to see how this whole thing will work out." —Leonard Klie
■ The Market
Over the last few years, self-service applications have become mission-critical for enterprises. The great news for vendors, says Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting, "is that after years of sitting on the sidelines, end-user organizations are buying. Acquisitions are being driven by the need to replace outdated touchtone-based interactive voice response (IVR) solutions and the significant benefits offered by the newer self-service applications, including substantially lower total cost of ownership."
The great news for buyers, she continues, is that "in general, there are now many strong self-service platforms for premises-based and hosted speech-enabled self-service environments. It’s a buyer’s market, which gives users an opportunity to acquire the right mix of technology, functionality, services, and support for their organizations."
According to analysts and consultants, there is an ever-growing field of competitors in the self-service IVR market. These companies differ widely in their pricing, service, and support models; targeted markets and businesses served; company direction; support of other applications; and the breadth and depth of functionalities offered. However, one thing all the leaders have in common is allowing businesses both large and small to tailor applications to their particular customer service needs, analysts state. Applications from all three leaders can be added across widely
scattered locations on a common platform using simple drag-and-drop techniques in a Web-based VoiceXML environment.
Analysts cited cost as the products’ only drawback, noting higher than average price tags by all three vendors to cover all that they offer. Prices are expected to drop, though, as these vendors continue to go after small and mid-sized businesses with more affordable products, they maintain.
■ The Leaders
>>> Depth of functionality, a strong ability for businesses to customize their speech systems and integrate them with other systems and applications, and high levels of customer satisfaction were characteristic of this year’s market leaders in the self-service suite category. Look for Avaya to stay strong in this area in the years to come, having just released version 4.0 of its Avaya Dialog Designer in June. One analyst went so far as to call Dialog Designer "a great authoring tool that will spell good things for the company." Dialog Designer also forged ahead of the pack in its support of VoiceXML 2.1, CCXML, session initiation protocol (SIP), and Web-based applications for faster time to market and greater ease of use. Avaya also has among the most extensive network of partners, giving it a strong edge when it comes to system and application compatibility, according to the analysts.
>>> West Interactive, they say, also demonstrated great market presence by offering both hosted and managed solutions for automatic call distribution, voice user interface design, natural language processing, text-to-speech engines, computer-telephony integration, and customer surveys. These elements combined will position it to move forward as the price war for these applications heats up.
■ The Winner
Cisco Systems emerged as the clear leader in the category, having released version 4.0 of its Unified Customer Voice Portal in the last 12 months. The portal, which includes tools to build applications for call management and processing, unified messaging, conferencing, telepresence, contact preferencing, and more, averaged extremely high for its depth of functionality, earning it a score of 4.1 out of a possible 5 in that area. In fact, most experts consulted anticipate that Cisco will excel even further in its depth of functionality and integration capabilities as it continues to build on
the existing VoiceXML 2.1 standards and forges additional partnerships with other technology and service vendors.
■ Vendor Contender
Intervoice, with the recent launch of its Voice Portal, is sure to add to an already strong presence in the speech industry. Ranking just a few fractions of a point behind this year’s leaders, it is expected to gain ground as its latest standards-based, server-side solution that enables the creation and execution of call control, voice, data, and multimodal applications builds steam. The company also takes the industry lead in its adoption of SCXML, something one analyst suggests will give it a big advantage moving forward. —Leonard Klie
■ The Market
Perhaps the fastest-growing field within the industry, speech analytics’ developments within the past several years exemplify the widening perspective of how speech technology can gather new types of data about customer needs and wants, all while increasing business productivity. Despite rapid growth, however, speech analytics still exists as first-generation technology, and thus faces significant challenges ahead. "The fur is still up in the air, and you can’t really see clearly what is and isn’t going on. It’s very new, it’s hot stuff, and some [vendors] are going in directions that are interesting, to differentiate themselves," says
Judith Markowitz, president of J. Markowitz Consultants.
■ The Leaders
>>> Autonomy’s acquisition of eTalk in 2005 has paid off, strengthening the company’s position within the field of customer relationship management. Using meaning-based computing rather than traditional keyword search methods, Autonomy enables "computers to understand the relationships that exist between disparate pieces of information and perform sophisticated analysis operations with real business value, automatically and in real time," according to the company’s Web site. In terms of application development, the company in March released its Intelligent Call Center product, which allows businesses to capture, share, and analyze both structure and unstructured data in text, video, email,
instant message, or audio formats. With clients such as Siemens, Omni Hotels, and the U.S. Senate, Autonomy received praise from analysts in the areas of accuracy, depth of functionality, and ease of use.
>>> One company pushing ahead in the analytics field, Verint Systems, was recognized by analysts as making advances in its combination of services provided for both security and commercial industries. As Markowitz says, "I look at Verint as a company that already has a very strong security side, and it’s incorporating some of that into the call center as well." As a testament to this statement, the company has pushed its ULTRA IntelliFind application for call centers. In another step forward for Verint, the company acquired Witness Systems in May; the latter company being known primarily for its workforce optimization software. Analysts ranked Verint well in depth of functionality and accuracy.
■ The Winner
While speaking with analysts, however, a common voting pattern emerged, and a consensus vote declared Nexidia as the leading company within the speech analytics field. The Atlanta-based company provides applications for both commercial and government use. The Language Assessor
application, which the company released in June, creates a new means of using speech analytics in call center training. The application uses automation in the hiring and training of employees at off-shore call centers, allowing companies to select agents with the most adept English language skills. Agents can also continue developing their understanding of English through the use of Nexidia’s analytics, which is able to pick up on mispronunciations and provide feedback. Analysts gave the company especially higher scores in the areas of depth of functionality, ease of use, and ease of implementation. In addition, one analyst praised Nexidia’s use of phonetic-based searching, as opposed to large-vocabulary continuous
speech recognition (LVCSR). "Many of the LVCSR vendors have made significant progress in simplifying the installation process for their applications, but the inherent challenges of LVCSR make them a more time-consuming effort at this point in time," says Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting.
■ Vendor Contender
Recognized by Judith Markowitz as "pushing natural language understanding more than any of the others," Utopy’s position was strengthened through its SpeechMiner application. Earning its highest rankings in both accuracy and ease of use, some of Utopy’s product features showcase a commitment to improving increased usability. Analysts noted that Utopy’s products cost more than other comprehensive solutions, giving the company a 2.5 in that area. In addition, one analyst in particular states that though Utopy has made developments in natural language understanding, it has not made significant enough strides in other areas to warrant a standout score. —Lauren Shopp
■ The Market
In recent years, goliaths like Nuance Communications would dominate areas like professional services. So it comes as a surprise that the victor in professional services for 2007 is merely a start-up company. There’s a logic behind this, as nearly all the participating analysts and consultants awarded big points for vendors that offer a more hands-on approach with their services. Conversely, some larger companies got slammed, particularly in areas of customer service. "It's difficult with the big companies for customer service to be high, so there are more complaints" says Juan Gilbert, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Computer Science and Software Engineering Department at Auburn University. Analysts also gave higher marks to vendors offering particularly innovative solutions.
■ The Leaders
>>> West Corp.
, which provides business process optimization (BPO) services, mostly through outsourcing, impressed the analysts with its diverse capabilities. "They do hosting, they build apps, they do quite a bit," says one analyst. However, like most other companies that stretch such a wide canvas, West was a bit thin in the customer satisfaction area. It wasn’t abysmal by any means, but it was the lowest of all the top-rated companies in this particular area.
>>> There was more marked enthusiasm for Convergys
. "I'd rate Convergys at the top," Gilbert says. "They worked for the U.S. Postal Service. If you get a package delivered to your house and you're not there, they leave a slip that tells you where to pick it up. Convergys worked on the call center associated with that." Of all the vendors in the category, though, Convergys was also the most polarizing. One analyst in particular noted that the vendor has slowed down its activity in speech technology, focusing its attention instead on other areas. As such, several analysts called into question Convergys’s ability to execute.
was not nearly as divisive, with many analysts gushing over its company culture and the efficiency of its team. "They have the happiest customers out of any company," says Nancy Jamison, principal analyst at Jamison Consulting. "Their tech support people— some of them have been with the company for 17 years." Analysts also commended Syntellect on its tendency to focus on areas neglected by other vendors. Last March, for example, the company opened the Phoenix Data Center to provide managed IVR and contact center solutions for its clients. The Data Center also serves as acrucial piece in the company’s ability to provide disaster recovery solutions and data backup for companies that need to resume business operations in the aftermath of a disaster.
■ The Winner
All of the analysts were excited when they saw SpeechCycle
on this year’s ballot. One even giggled. "They’re on the cutting edge of some exciting stuff," she says. SpeechCycle’s work in call center solutions using virtual customer service representatives (CSRs) was the most-cited example. What makes SpeechCycle’s offering particularly unique is the adaptability of its program, designed to conform to the requests of the caller and the complexities of his situation. Toward that end, SpeechCycle’s CSR can actually perform multilevel problem solving, which gave it an edge over
competitors. Yet despite this excitement, perhaps SpeechCycle’s victory should be a qualified one. Though praised for being a hands-on, innovative company, it hasn’t been around long enough to establish a track record of consistently high performance. Jamison is particularly cautious: "So far, they’ve executed well," she says. "They just don’t have enough customers yet, so in a way, being a start-up helps them."
■ Vendor Contender
While analysts docked Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories
for not having a large breadth of offered services, they gave the vendor high marks on its ability to execute. And no wonder—Genesys’ focus is on business conferencing. Last year, the company released the forth generation of its Meeting Center, which combined VoIP, video, and Web conferencing into a single, streamlined interface. And analysts believe that Genesys is on the rise. "I think Genesys might be the one to watch," says one analyst. "They're working on business consulting services as a sort of adjunct to the idea of professional services, but it's not ready yet…. If you ask me in two years or maybe two months, (my rating) will probably be higher." —Ryan Joe
■ The Market
Many of today’s scientific and technological advances got their starts in the military and government environments and then expanded into the private sector later on. This is as true of TV dinners and protective clothing as it is of GPS technologies, radio communications systems, and speech security applications. This last advance, used to verify the identity of a speaker, has found a growing number of commercial applications in the call centers of financial institutions, healthcare organizations, telecommunications providers, and retailers worldwide, but many of the market leaders in this category still maintain heavy ties to the military and government. An emerging market, largely spurred by federal regulations to protect consumers against identity theft, the speech security industry is dotted with newcomers that have little or no track record thus far. Many have pilots in place right now, making it difficult to judge overall customer satisfaction. Speaker verification products in general have often come at a high price, but an emerging trend that is bringing prices down for many applications is the offering by many companies of hosted solutions that rely on per-use charges. The industry in general has seen competitors come and go, and is fragmented both from a technological and geographic standpoint. Many of the applications are highly customized to fit the particular niche markets that they serve as well.
■ The Leaders
>>> Among the wide collection of vendors in this field, PerSay
received very high marks (an industry-leading 4.3) for its accuracy, with solutions that excel in identifying potential fraudsters. Speaker verification is its core business, which means that all of the company’s attention is focused on perfecting its technologies in that area, analysts maintain. Like most other industry leaders, its core technologies have very deep roots in government and homeland security, but the company is building a strong presence in the healthcare, telecom, and financial services sectors as well, and has a global reach. It also rated well above the industry average in overall customer satisfaction.
>>> BBN Technologies
also has strong ties to the public sector, giving it a great deal of access to threat information, added resources toward preventing those threats, and technical expertise in adjusting its solutions accordingly. The company led all competitors in this area, pulling in an overall rating of 4.8. Accuracy was also a strong suit for the company. BBN’s solutions fell short, though, in their overall cost and ease of use because they are entirely customized for the particular user companies. That also adversely affected the company’s ratings in time to market and overall customer satisfaction.
■ The WinnerAgnitio
, which analysts and consultants judged to be the strongest competitor in the speech security space this year, has a strong presence in the public sector as well. As the leading provider of voice biometrics solutions to security, police, and intelligence forces, it raked in a 4.5 for its ability to identify and address threats. The company also scored high in the breadth of its offerings, providing a wide variety of solutions in a suite of products that include its core text and language voice biometrics solutions, a database platform for storing utterances, and biometric speaker spotting that singles out specific voices in an audio stream involving many speakers. It also led all competitors in overall customer satisfaction and the ability to deal with multiple languages.
■ Vendor ContenderNuance Communications
is one vendor in the speaker verification market with a very wide selection of other speech engines. As such, analysts gave the company’s SpeechSecure and Verifier voice biometric products the highest marks among all the vendors in the category for their ease of use, time to deployment, and integration. "I would give them a bit of an edge here because they can easily be integrated with Nuance’s other applications," says Bill Meisel, president of TMA Associates. Nuance also garnered high marks in customer satisfaction and accuracy, but scored just slightly below the three leaders in these two areas. As further testimony to the strength of its offerings in this category, many other speech
technology vendors have incorporated Nuance’s speaker verification technologies into their own product suites, according to analysts. —Leonard Klie
Categories and Criteria: We name one winner, two leaders, and a Vendor Contender in each of five categories using a proprietary selection formula that involves input from leading industry analysts and consultants. The selection of these leaders was based on a composite score of the analysts' and consultants' ratings for each company in several key areas, including customer satisfaction, depth of functionality, company direction, accuracy, cost, and ease of use, using a weighted scale for each of these criterion based on their importance to current or potential customers.
Companies and Suppliers Mentioned