The 2012 Market Leaders

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The editors of Speech Technology magazine would like to extend their deepest gratitude to those who took part, to varying degrees, in evaluating the Speech Technology Industry Awards. This issue, and the Awards themselves, would not be possible without the contributions of the following judges, assessors, commenters, and raters: Dick Bucci, principal analyst, Pelorus Research; Deborah Dahl, principal, Conversational Technologies; Keith Dawson, principal analyst, Ovum; Tony Fillippone, executive vice president, sourcing, governance, and healthcare strategies, HFS Research; Donna Fluss, founder and president, DMG Consulting; Daniel Hong, lead analyst, global customer interaction, Ovum; Bill Livingston, managing director, VoiceProtect; Judith Markowitz, president, J. Markowitz Consulting; Sheila McGee-Smith, principal, McGee-Smith Analytics; Bill Meisel, president, TMA Associates; John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research, Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA); Peter Ryan, outsourcing practice leader, Ovum; Bill Scholz, president, NewSpeech LLC; Valene Skerpac, managing director, iBiometrics; and Paul Stockford, president and chief analyst, Saddletree Research.

Speech technology's value and importance to those who use it are growing exponentially, so it shouldn't be surprising that it is becoming more pervasive in both enterprise and consumer applications. This is why we bring you our sixth annual Speech Technology Market Leader Awards. Here, you'll find the vendors responsible for shaping the speech technology market across six categories: speech engine, self-service suite, speech analytics, voice security, professional services, and mobile voice search. Before you invest in a speech technology system, see what industry analysts and consultants have to say about these leading vendors.

Speech Engine

The Market

The future looks bright for the speech engine market. According to a March 2012 report from Global Industry Analysts, the global market for voice recognition systems and software is projected to grow 29.1 percent during the next few years, reaching $69.4 billion by 2015. The firm currently values the market at $49.2 billion.

The report notes that speech recognition has moved beyond corporate uses, dominated by interactive voice response (IVR) systems, to more consumer applications, including mobile phones and computers, car navigation systems, dictation, and voicemail-to-text.

The Leaders

Google won over analysts with its high accuracy rate, company innovation, and customer satisfaction.

"Google Voice Search and Google's Voice Actions, essentially a personal assistant, work well on difficult tasks and integrate both natural language processing and Google's search technology," one analyst says.

Consumers have been able to use Google Voice Search on mobile devices since 2008. In 2011, Voice Search became available on desktops using Google Chrome's API.

"Google has a very accurate and fast speech engine for a large number of languages," says Deborah Dahl, principal at speech and language consulting firm Conversational Technologies. "As people use the speech engine, Google is also using the users' speech to keep improving the recognition, so it is continually increasing its accuracy."

Microsoft also rated well with analysts, who gave it high marks for accuracy and innovation.

Microsoft's engine is quite accurate and fast," Dahl says. "Microsoft also makes it available in a variety of platforms, including the desktop as part of the Windows 7 operating system, as well as the TellMe IVR platform."

In February, contact center software and services provider 24/7 partnered with Microsoft to incorporate technologies for interactive self-service across mobile, Web, and voice channels, big data analytics, and speech and conversational interfaces to create a next-generation cloud platform for customer service.

The Winner

Nuance Communications scored big with analysts, who were wowed by the company's accuracy, innovation, and customer satisfaction. Its overall score, though, took a hit in the cost department.

Nuance went on a buying spree in 2011, acquiring companies including Vlingo, SVOX, Webmedx, and analyst favorite Loquendo.

"Nuance is innovating in many ways, such as its NDEV program, which lets developers add speech to their mobile apps using cloud-based recognition technology," says Bill Meisel, president of TMA Associates.

In addition, "Nuance's speech recognition technology is dominant in medical transcription and desktop dictation, and is accurate at a level that would be considered magic a decade ago," one analyst says.

Though the company won't say, Nuance is also believed to be the speech recognition piece of Apple's voice assistant Siri.

Meisel calls Siri a "tipping point" for speech recognition technology. "The change in perception has opened opportunities…that could lead to impressive growth in the use of speech technology."

Vendor Contender

AT&T, which made the leaderboard last year, scored with its high accuracy rate.

"[Its] speech recognition…is as good or better than any commercial recognizer I've ever used," says Bill Scholz, president of AVIOS and NewSpeech, "and response time is nearly instantaneous" with a good-quality Internet connection.

AT&T plans to release its Watson Speech application programming interfaces (APIs), which let developers create apps and services with voice recognition and transcription capabilities, as well as a software development kit that can be used to create software to capture spoken words and send them into the network for transcription. The APIs will first be available for Androids and iOS, with more coming for gaming, social media, speaker authentication, and language translation.

Speech Self-Service Suite

The Market

After falling off dramatically in 2009, the market for voice self-service systems continued to rebound last year. Global Industry Analysts (GIA) estimates the current market at $1.5 billion, and projects it will reach $2.78 billion by 2017, driven largely by a growing use of systems for outbound notifications, new pricing strategies, and the further development of such open standards as VoiceXML.

The economy also shaped the industry in other ways. Companies focused their attention on customer retention, customer acquisition, and customer satisfaction ratings, leading them to look to optimize their IVR technologies. This brought many opportunities for replacements and upgrades, which made up the bulk of purchases in the past two years. There are, however, still far too many legacy systems in use, analysts maintain.

Another driving force in the industry is the move toward multichannel self-service, extending the customer experience to mobile and Web platforms. Though analysts have observed that vendors still struggle with integrating the various channels and sharing information across them, some firms have already made great progress in this area.

Additionally, "progress made in customizing interactions and deploying speech tactically has produced some outstanding implementations," observes Dick Bucci, principal analyst at Pelorus Associates. "The kind and reassuring voice of a human agent is still preferable but hardly necessary."

GIA also expects opportunities for self-service systems from developing economies, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition, small and midsized businesses are likely to overtake larger enterprises in their quest for the latest self-service technologies, according to the analyst firm.

The Leaders

Contact Solutions, 2009's category winner, was propelled back to the leaderboard this year by high marks in depth of functionality (4.1) and customer satisfaction (4.2). In fact, Sheila McGee-Smith, principal at McGee-Smith Analytics, notes that "the services component delivered by Contact Solutions keeps customer satisfaction high."

"Contact Solutions offers continuous improvement with its speech solution," adds Paul Stockford of Saddletree Research.

Voxeo, which won the category in 2011, fell a notch, despite an industry-leading score of 4.3 in cost and high customer satisfaction marks. Analysts were particularly impressed with the company's adoption of voice standards.

"It should also be commended for reaching out to small developers through its Prophecy and Evolution products," says Deborah Dahl, principal of Conversational Technologies.

Bucci agrees. "The Prophecy platform complies with all of the latest standards and comes with extensive tools and…services to help create custom solutions."

He also praises Voxeo for its "integrated support for multiple self-service channels," including voice, text, mobile, Web, and social networks.

The Winner

Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories has freed itself from the shackles put upon it by Alcatel-Lucent (which hurt the company's ratings in the past). As a stand-alone company backed by Permira Funds and Technology Crossover Ventures, Genesys is putting renewed focus on the customer experience, analysts note. It leads the field in depth of functionality (4.3), ability to customize (4.5), ability to integrate (4.3), and customer satisfaction (4.5). Genesys "continues to push the envelope for self-service," McGee-Smith states.

Stockford says it has "a distinct advantage in this market."

"Genesys has long deployed advanced speech technologies, from the most basic to advanced natural language understanding," Bucci says. "With its new Conversation Manager, Genesys appears to be ahead of the pack in the way it automates social media queries."

Vendor Contender

Cisco Systems, which won the category in our first installment of the Speech Industry Awards in 2007 and then fell off the leaderboard, this year reappears as a viable contender, with a score of 4.0 in customer satisfaction and ability to customize and integrate its solutions. "As part of its Unified IP solution, Cisco's offering is highly customized and easily integrated," Stockford says.

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