Dr. Andrew Hunt of Holly Connects

Holly Connects is an international company, based in Sydney, Australia, that provides next-generation IVR platforms and services to carriers, enterprises and hosted speech providers.  The Holly next-generation platform is a flexible, reliable, VoIP-VoiceXML framework for any IVR application and integrates with CTI, Intelligent Networks, and existing web infrastructures.

Speech Technology Magazine sat down with Dr. Andrew Hunt, vice president of engineering at Holly Connects, to talk about the successes in speech technologies during 2005 and his vision for 2006.

Q. Andrew, what is your role at Holly and how do you see it evolving as you push the company toward international expansion?
A. Holly Connects has drawn together a great team with passionate and talented sales, engineering and management.  The core team came together 10 years ago to develop and deploy the first global, commercial VoIP network.  I lead Holly's R&D team with responsibility for creating our core products, bringing those products to global markets, and for enabling our channel partners to effectively sell and deploy Holly-based solutions.

Q. What is going on at Holly right now?
A. 2005 was a very successful year for Holly.  We continued our growth in revenue and profit, established global channel partnerships, achieved VoiceXML Certification for our platform, and closed several substantial Telecommunication carrier deals in Australia.

As 2006 begins, naturally, our top priority is on completing successful Telco deployments, including major new infrastructure investments by Telstra and Vodafone.  These systems are "in the cloud" deployments of Holly's next-generation network product for value-add network services, customer care, mobile services, directory assistance and hosted speech solutions for enterprise and government.  These deployments are all VoIP- and VoiceXML-based and leverage Holly's Intelligent Network and advanced multi-tenancy capabilities.

Holly's international expansion, announced in late 2005, has surprised us with quick results in globally replicating our Australia success.  We are working hard with our channel partners - Product Support Solutions in North America, and Dimension Data globally - and our technology partners - including Audium and Nuance - to bring our next generation offering to market.  Customers have been attracted to Holly's deep VoIP expertise, productized offering for advanced multi-tenanted hosting, sophisticated operations and reporting and proven large-scale deployments.

Q. How have your customers and partners influenced these projects and others?
A. Each and every customer deployment has unique requirements.  One of Holly's key differentiators is that our R&D pipeline is structured to provide responsiveness and flexibility to meet those requirements.  This responsiveness provides our customers and partners with greater influence over Holly's product so we continually evolve product features with direct customer input.  Further, our strategic customers and partners are involved intimately in determining priorities for each major product release.

Telstra, for example, is Australia's largest Telco in consumer, corporate and Internet markets - amongst others.  Working closely with Telstra on its enterprise speech solutions, Holly has productized a suite of advanced multi-tenancy features that permit shared infrastructure for deployment of a multitude of applications for multiple customers and with multiple speech recognizers - all while ensuring secure reporting, dynamic resource allocation and capacity resale, and protecting each tenant from the adverse behavior of others.

Q. Are there any major Australian trends in speech technologies that you foresee bursting onto the international level or vice versa?
A. Australia continues to lead speech technology uptake, particularly for awareness and acceptance by the general public.  We are seeing VoiceXML technologies penetrate into core carrier networks.  We have deployed several VoiceXML solutions driven by Telco Intelligent Networks and have found VoIP-VoiceXML is a perfect match to the IMS architecture for 3G networks - the carrier architecture brings convergence of voice, data, audio and video services for mobile, fixed-line and Internet users.  Speech technology provides the right consumer-friendly interface to the features of the IMS service-oriented architecture to enable use of complex network functions that customers can already access, but rarely use.

Second, there is a massive installed based of IVR - in Australia as globally - that has reached or passed its support life leading both Telcos and large Enterprise to consider strategies for replacement.  Every one of these organizations has a requirement for the replacement to implement open standards, especially VoIP-VoiceXML, to provide speech recognition, and to provide a low-risk migration plan.  Network-hosted speech solutions have become an attractive option with lower capital expenditure and greater functionality and reliability.  With Holly's product offering specialized capabilities to address this market, we're excited about the potential to replicate Australian market success internationally with deployments already live in EMEA.

Q. What do you see happening with the market for speech technologies? Is your vision different in terms of Australia versus other areas?
A. I have been involved in the speech technology market for 18 years - in research, product development, sales, services and standards, and across Australia, USA and Japan.  I see the adoption of speech technology as a slow revolution that is always driven by a core need for computers to become more human-like - not the reverse.  The near term opportunities are in lowering the cost of new service delivery through applications and service hosting and through pushing the boundaries of naturalness of interaction.  Australia differs from other markets only in its willingness and agility to mainstream newer capabilities more quickly.

Q. Do you have any new deployments that you could tell us about?
A. Holly developed and deployed an innovative service called Telstra Secure Contacts in partnership with FusionOne of San Jose, Calif.  It provides Telstra's mobile users - both consumer and business - with automatic synchronization of their desktop address book onto their cell phones and into the network for voice dialing.  The service offers a convenient means to simplify daily communications leveraging Telstra's existing installation of the Holly Voice Platform.

Q. Last time I checked, Holly was working with Vodafone to expand the use of speech beyond the Australia office. How is this expansion progressing?
A. Vodafone Australia is a case study in achieving customer and business benefits with speech technology as evidenced by receipt of numerous industry awards for their "Lara" solution.  Vodafone has deployed a series of speech applications on the Holly Voice Platform, in partnership with Dimension Data and Nuance, and continues to execute on a significant roadmap of new services. 

Globally, Vodafone has recognized the ground-breaking work in Australia and is working to replicate the success achieved with Holly and our partners across its operating companies.

Q. Is there anything that you would like to add?
A. Thank you for the opportunity to share the Holly story with readers of the Speech Technology Magazine.

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