Chuck Buffum, CEO, Vocent

Q Can you give us a little background on Vocent? How did you get started?

A We started Vocent in January of 2001 with the vision of bringing packaged voiceprint authentication solutions to the Fortune 1000. After nearly 5 years at Nuance, I knew that voiceprint technology was definitely ready for commercial deployment. I was convinced that the primary opportunity was to offer packaged solutions to business problems, rather than custom applications built by specialists on top of an SDK. We have been true to that vision for 2 years now and are seeing the acceptance of our solutions despite the weakness in the economy.

Q What are the short and long term plans for Vocent? Where do you see the company in 10 years?

A Short term our plans are to firmly establish the voiceprint authentication market, which is still in its infancy, and establish Vocent as the leading solution provider. We have the products, partners and team in place to reach that goal for the telephony/call center market this year. Longer term, we see voiceprint authentication as a strategic resource throughout the enterprise, being used to authenticate users across all device types and networks (telephones, PCs, PDAs, etc).

Its very hard to imagine 10 years out, but I expect Vocent to be the leader in voiceprint authentication solutions, and positioned among the leaders in security and identity management companies.

Q Vocent offers two products in the Voice Secure™ line (password reset and confirmed caller). Please provide us with an overview of these products.

A Voice Secure ™ Password Reset was our first product in 2001. It is a complete solution for the help desk, automating the resetting of passwords and integrating with the leading enterprise software designed for the help desk market. It uses speech recognition to identify the caller, a voiceprint to authenticate the caller, and then resets the password on the requested system, automating the most frequent task at enterprise help desks.

Voice Secure ™ Confirmed Caller was released in 2002 and provides strong authentication for call centers. It uses speech recognition to identify the caller, then a voiceprint to authenticate the caller, and passes the call to the agent, IVR or speech recognition to complete the "business transaction". This Vocent solution can be rapidly justified as it automates the first 10%-25% of an agent-handled call. I believe the savings that accrue by automating 10% of the call center labor costs are so compelling, that Confirmed Caller will be rolled out in front of most IVRs also, providing a uniform method to identify and authenticate callers and eliminating the need for PINs on the IVR system.

Q How does using ones voiceprint compare to other biometrics in terms of security reliability?

A Voiceprints have been proven to be extremely secure and reliable in research studies and in practice. Strangely, they have suffered an undeserved lack of attention or respect among the biometric technologies. Only iris scanning technology has had higher accuracy in lab studies with the studies I've seen showing that voiceprint technology is equal to or better than fingerprinting, facial scanning or the other popular biometrics. In addition, lab studies often fail to mention the practical benefits of voice, such as the lack of new infrastructure required (telephones and microphones are essentially everywhere already) and the convenience and comfort of users (as compared to intrusiveness and anxiety of some other biometrics).

I'm not suggesting that voice is the only practical biometric. But it is both reliable and effective and the only biometric choice for telephone based transactions—which still are extremely high volume in virtually every large, service oriented enterprise. We've chosen to focus on these applications to significantly improve security and user convenience while providing a tangible return on investment to our customers

Q Describe an actual deployment of password reset solution and demonstrate how it can decrease costs in an organization?

A One of our most recent customers has over 50,000 employees and aggressive password policy rules. They saw the typical results of that combination: more than a thousand password resets calls every Monday morning, consuming 50 help desk personnel for most of the day.

Voice Secure ™ Password Reset is now handling the bulk of those calls, changing passwords on a variety of local network directories, servers and mainframe systems. It is integrated with an industry leading identity management system as well as the customer's help desk management software, logging all calls to maintain accurate help desk statistics. As a result, this company has been able to redeploy 40 of those personnel into other, more fulfilling positions, achieving a payback in less than 3 months in production.

Q How does voice biometrics improve customer convenience?

A I think the slogan "nothing to remember, nothing to forget" gets to the crux of the user convenience advantage for voiceprint authentication. We have all been bombarded by numerous passwords and sometimes feel as if we are being interrogated by customer service reps. Voiceprint authentication allows users to repeat a prompted phrase so that it is not necessary to remember passwords, PINs or the answers to challenge/response questions.

Q Which industries do you see speaker verification playing the largest role?

A Voiceprint authentication is currently effective for telephone-based transactions, like our password reset and confirmed caller applications. Although these solutions apply to a wide variety of Fortune 1000 companies, we have chosen to focus our initial attention on the service industries such as financial services and health due to their large user bases and heavy reliance on call centers. We'll expand to other industries as the market matures.

Q Privacy can be a major issue when dealing with biometric technologies. How do you handle these issues when talking to your customers?

A I think privacy should be viewed from two perspectives. Voiceprint authentication is not intrusive for the user, so we rarely encounter any resistance based on a concern for "personal privacy." At the same time, users are realizing that voiceprint authentication is a valuable tool for the protection of the privacy of their personal information which is highly valued.

Q Who are your technology partners? How can a company become a Vocent partner?

A We have 2 types of technology partners. Our speech technology partners are Nuance and Speechworks. Our enterprise software partners include BMC, Courion, Netegrity, Remedy and RSA. Vocent continues to seek partnerships with identity management, security, and call center companies. A message to info@vocent.com will get the discussion going.

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