The Advantages of Hosted, Managed, and SaaS’d Speech

This year’s closing keynote panel discussion at SpeechTEK 2009 tackled hosted, managed services, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. Early in the session Nancy Jamison, a market analyst for Jamison Consulting, asked panelists to define what made hosted unique.

According to RJ Auburn, chief technology officer for Voxeo, one of big advantages of managed services and SaaS is the ability to provide redundancy—even in a hybrid on-premise implementation. A business that experiences seasonal traffic spikes and has on-premise ports for its contract center can, for instance, rent extra ports from a vendor like Voxeo to cover those periods when there is overflow. It can use its own ports the rest of the year, possibly saving itself some money and affording itself some of the control of on-premise.

SaaS-models also allow enterprises to leverage technologies that would be too complex and too expensive to implement exclusively. Paul Watson, general manager of multi-channel and self-care solutions for Convergys pointed specifically to speaker verification as one such example. Often complex and requiring prohibitive capital investment for licensing, infrastructure, and training, voice biometrics becomes more manageable when handled through a SaaS model, Watson argues. It is, moreover, quicker to implement.

Jamie Bertasi, TellMe’s senior vice president of enterprise, said that one of the biggest advantages of SaaS and managed solutions is the ability to tune a system with every call, quickly and efficiently, letting a system become more powerful at every stage after deployment.

Voxify’s executive vice president, Daniel Reed, agreed, adding that in a managed services environment vendors can use “aggregate data for the benefit of individuals”—that is to say, that a vendor draws from the well of its experience. With each deployment, at least ostensibly, it becomes more competent and capable.

Auburn, added that technology updates and the ability to keep systems evergreen with the latest updates and platforms in a hosted environment also provides tremendous advantage. Speaking about older contact centers running on legacy hardware and competing with newer, easier systems, Auburn adds, “There’s a lot of old scary boxes sitting in basements [for 10 years at a time]. Having the technology move forward is very, very valuable.”

The panel agreed broadly that one of the main advantages is speed of deployment, but also cautioned that sufficient attention must be paid to the implementation.

“Talk to people about their experience with speech and you’ll get very mixed results,” says Bertasi. “We can be fast all we want, but if it doesn’t work—whatever the reasons are that things go wrong—we’re not and our clients are not going to achieve their goals.”

In her estimation, systems that still move callers through the call flow in a very serial manner miss the point entirely. She stresses good design that helps users achieve goals quickly.

Despite the panel’s consensus on some matters, the stage also saw its share of occasional and brief digs. Panelists, speaking to an audience of potential customers, vied to push their messages and wares within the allotted time constraints. In one exchange, as Watson had begun to wrap up an overview of Convergys’s port-share, Auburn pointedly asked how many of the company’s ports were VoiceXML-enabled. Watson replied that he didn’t have an exact figure, but that the number was more than 50 percent. The exchange was polite but also illustrative of how competitive the hosted space can be with a multiplicity of vendors and plans from which to choose.

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