Dan Miller, senior analyst, Opus Research

STM: What are the main themes of this year's VOX conference?
DM: There are several, but my major message is that, when it comes to sourcing speech services, "You are not alone!" Managed or hosted services are already baked into the Web and voice self-service strategies of a large percentage of firms in financial services, travel, healthcare, retail… you name it. With VoiceXML, voice service parallels the tactics that firms use to offer self-service through their Web site. They may supply the data or access to customer files, but most companies turn to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for providing or hosting the inbound portal and link in real time or "near real time" through well-understood protocols like FTP and HTTP.

STM: This is a large-enterprise phenomenon, right?
DM: Not at all! I'm especially gratified to tell you that Holly Australia is taking the lead sponsorship role for VOX 2005. There's no better evidence that hosted speech is a global phenomenon that is becoming more attractive as standards for leveraging Web-based infrastructures take hold. It's a way for businesses of all sizes to share the cost of expensive infrastructure with a number of other companies.

This year at VOX, we lead off the day with presentations by customers just to make this point. We start with an executive from giant system integrator CSC describing how a managed services approach was vital to the self-service strategy of a large credit card issuer. Then, the CEO of Domino's Pizza in Australia will discuss how his firm is working with the hosting wing of Telstra, the largest phone company in that country, to bring the most advanced technology to its chain of small businesses. I like to think of it as a variety show of sorts.

STM: Isn't the core opportunity built around cost avoidance and risk reduction?
DM: Historically, the answer is "yes." But the Internet has changed everything. In the "cost savings" department, IP telephony and Voice over IP (VoIP) are formidable alternatives to hosted telephony. It saves money, but firms are finding that, when it comes to migrating mission critical traffic from the traditional switched network, there is no way to avoid both technological and financial risk. They're happy to turn the job over to a Tellme, Telstra or other hosted option, allowing themselves to focus on their firm's core competency.

STM: The impact of VoIP goes far beyond the traditional contact center. Will enterprise-wide applications be subject to discussion?
DM: Now you're getting to the heart of the matter. I'm especially excited about the succession of sessions that demonstrate IP Telephony creating a greenfield of service possibilities for enterprises and service providers alike. We'll have executives from core technology firms Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Microsoft discussing how the Services Oriented Architecture is distributed over private and public internets.

We're especially excited that Mark Spencer, creator of the open source PBX called Asterisk, will join in on a session called "Is Rich VoIP Gonna Make Me Rich?" Mark knows that the move to "free" minutes on the Internet, coupled with open source code to support call routing and application scripting, has provided fertile ground for development of innovative services, including those of the hosted variety.

STM: Innovation is one thing; we're wondering whether hosted speech has a sustainable business model.
DM: Look no further than the automated Directory Assistance business. In the past year, we've witnessed the rollout of dozens of new Directory Assistance services that put recognizers on the front line of a high-volume, high-revenue application. My personal belief is that automation, coupled with advancements in Web services, is transforming this traditional backwater into a much more robust platform for personalized queries. We've put together a panel that brings together industry veterans from Tellme, InfoNXX, ScanSoft and Local Matters to discuss how these changes may come about.

STM: You're describing some very dramatic changes in services infrastructure, business practices and service delivery. Are infrastructure providers up to the task?
DM: Definitely. But you don't have to hear it from me. We see a great variety of firms offering "platforms" that promote rapid and cost-effective development and delivery of new services. While many of the tools are developed to suit the needs of single users, the future is in developing software to support multi-tenant applications that give individual customers the ability to monitor, tweak and manage their individual applications. It's a global phenomenon and you'll see technology providers from Australia, Western Europe and North America.

STM: Finally, where do the trends you're discussing lead us?
DM: That's not for me to say - at least on my own. That's why we close the day with our Annual Town Meeting. Mark Plakias - now a Strategist at France Telecom - will join me, Steve Chambers (ScanSoft), Neal Bernstein (Microsoft), Lance Berks (Holly Australia), Mike Dickerson (Vocalocity) and Steve McElderry (Cisco) to tackle the Big Questions that arise at the intersection of multi-tenancy, SOA, IP Telephony and self-service.

For More Information on Vox, please visit: http://www.speechtek.com/conference/VOX.html

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SpeechTEK 2005 will take place from August 1-4 at the New York Marriot Marquis. Registration is required to attend the conference and exhibition.  Register online at https://www.amcommregistration.com/.

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Dan Miller is Senior Analyst at Opus Research. This is the third year that Dan has organized the day-long conference called "VOX: Service Provider Edition." He coined the term "Conversational Access Technologies" (CAT) to capture how advancements in speech processing, call routing, mobility and directory services meld to improve self-service applications over the telephone. Opus has long monitored the $1.2 billion outsourced IVR market and the broader $20+ billion opportunity surrounding both the live and automated "teleservices" industry.

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