Dan Miller, senior analyst, Opus Research
Q: For the second year, you are holding a conference at SpeechTek the companies hosting automated speech applications and their customers. "VOX: The Voice in the Cloud" opens Monday, September 13, at 10 AM. What makes hosted speech so important and what do you expect attendees to learn from the day's sessions?
A: This is actually the fifth year that Mark Plakias and I have organized a VOX conference. We've founded it as a showcase for service providers of all kinds - ASPs and carriers - to share their insights into deploying automated speech for themselves and their customers. We've fine-tuned the design so that enterprise decision-makers meet providers of hosted services and come away with a deeper understanding of how a speech-enabled network can tie into enterprise's applications and databases.
Q: Why is hosted speech getting so much attention these days? How big is it? What's fueling its growth?
A: One of the major take-aways from last year's VOX was that "c" level executives see the hosting of speech applications as more than just a way to avoid the capital expense of buying or upgrading existing voice response systems. They look to hosted service providers to deploy the latest-and-greatest technology, monitor performance, refine grammars, and tune performance on an ongoing basis. Just like in-house deployments, there's a big 'people' component to this, and that's always a good trigger to outsource. That's why enterprise spending on hosted services will exceed $300 million in 2004, which means growth in excess of 50 percent annually.
Q: Isn't Voice over IP (VoIP) a big part of the equation?
A: Definitely. That's why we'll have top planning executives from Cisco, Intel, VoiceGenie, HP and InfoNXX on a panel entitled "Why Packets are Automatic Speech Response's Best Friend." At a high level, it's easy to see how IP-based routing will replace expensive, transaction based call handling features (like MCI's Transfer/Connect or AT&T's Take-back-and-transfer). Packetizing voice for transport on broadband corporate WANs is great for speech because it allows ASR support for applications in multiple locations, and supports distributed architectures where speech resources do not have to reside in the same physical location as application servers and corporate databases.
Q: InfoNXX? I'm not sure I recognize the name as an outsourcer?
A: They're not a household name, perhaps, but they are emerging as the largest third-party provider of directory assistance services to telephone companies, especially wireless carriers. Automation of directory assistance services is emerging as one of the largest speech applications going. It's a global phenomenon that attracted the top speech engine providers, like Nuance, SpeechWorks, IBM and Loquendo to support live services from Verizon, AT&T Wireless, Telstra and Telecom Italia, among others. We're addressing it in a session entitled "The Biggest VoIP App of all."
Q: I thought that carriers were going to make more hay out of messaging services, specifically providing access to enterprise e-mail and PIM systems like Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes. Are you addressing that trend?
A: Indeed! We are hosting a session on "New Messaging Paradigms." It will go way past simple e-mail reading and management offered to discuss the impact of Instant Messaging, text messaging and other real-time or near-real time interaction using the growing population of new full-featured handsets and terminals. Speech is just part of the mix of modalities that wireless and wireline subscribers can employ to get communicate with friends, business associates and corporate resources, as representatives from Lucent and VoiceSignal will discuss. This is also the session, through the courtesy of CenterPost, that we will learn how enterprises plan to make better use of Intelligent Notification (outbound messaging) systems to strengthen the bonds with customers, employees and other stakeholders.
Q: Messaging and DA are all well and good, but what's the real meat-and-potatoes of hosted speech? Where's the center of gravity?
A: The big question is how much is replacing legacy in-house IVRs and how much is really new business and applications. As customers get savvier and more comfortable with the solutions out there, the balance will shift towards new apps. But just how fast that is happening will only become clear at VOX. With panel participants from AT&T, Continental Airlines, Convergys, FirstData Voice Services, QWEST Communications, Verizon, Tuvox, Angel and Genesys, as well as Mark Plakias and myself, we are going to ask and answer the important questions that give shape to the market. Our questions and answers are going to be informed by results of a six-month study we have conducted on Best Practices in hosted speech.
Q: Tell me more about the report on Best Practices for Speech ASPs?
A: We were in the field for six months interviewing executives from major speech application outsourcers around the world. We have documented findings on the key attributes of outsourcing excellence in terms of pricing, packaging, positioning and engaging the right people as employees. The first 75 attendees to VOX2004 will receive a free copy of the executive summary.
Q: I see it is published by OPUS Research. Is that your new employer?
A: Hardly new. I founded OPUS in 1985 to conduct market research and provide strategic analysis to technology providers in voice processing and enhanced network services. OPUS is the OEM service provider behind original Voice & Wireless Program at The Kelsey Group as well as the Voice Applications program at Zelos Group. My fellow researcher Mark Plakias and I have teamed together on many projects over the last 19 years while I've managed OPUS. The Best Practices report is one out of several on outsourcing that we have authored over the past few years. Other areas we see as 'hot' in terms of outsourcing include Directory Assistance, which is now a $700 million market, as well as, intelligent notifications and alerts, which is doubling in size annually?
Q: What would you say is the best way to get a better grip on new trends in outsourcing services, and what to look for?
A: That's easy, come to VOX!