Ed Verney, Director of Interactive Media Platforms, Hewlett-Packard
Congratulations with the transaction bringing PipeBeach into the HP family. Why did you make this acquisition? Please also tell us about HP OpenCall.
Ed Verney Their software products and expertise were a real opportunity to enhance our OpenCall media platform as a more complete solution. By leveraging their solid customer references (including the world's first VoiceXML portal deployed at a mobile operator, Vodafone) and their active role in standards, we will rapidly become the leading global supplier of VoiceXML solution to service providers. HP sells two systems running the OpenCall software targeted at the voice market: the OpenCall Converged Network Media Server and OpenCall Media Platform. Industry-ready, these platforms provide the availability, scalability, and flexibility network operators require while delivering voice, video, data, and fax support to a variety of applications (such as messaging, portals, call centers and IVR replacement) in circuit-based and IP-based Customers are increasingly moving toward open standard products and the OpenCall products combined with VoiceXML addresses this for voice applications. NB
What does this acquisition mean for HP concerning speech in general and VoiceXML in particular? Could it mean that you feel telecom providers are starting to increase their equipment investment spend?
EV This acquisition reinforces our investment and commitment in the interactive voice market segment and significantly enhances our ability to help telecom service providers simplify the creation and deployment of VoiceXML-based applications. Equipment investment is varying significantly across geographic markets judging by the number of RFIs and RFQs we have seen, and we are now fully prepared to address this expanding market. NB
Does this acquisition portend a trend for HP to begin acquiring more companies that offer speech solutions?
EV Not necessarily. The PipeBeach acquisition was timely in that it provided us with products and expertise which would have take more than two years to develop internally. We are now ready to address the VoiceXML market as it grows rapidly over the next few years. As IP, multimedia and multimodality technologies become mature, the OpenCall platform will continue to grow as the leading interactive media platform either through internal R&D or acquisition. NB
How will PipeBeach be integrated into HP's worldwide organization? How will their technology be integrated into HP's product lines?
EV HP and PipeBeach had already worked together over the past year on several major customer opportunities, including a large French telecom customer. The PipeBeach team in Stockholm has now been integrated in the Interactive Media Product division. Their core products are being integrated into the HP OpenCall product family: OpenCall speechWeb interacts between the telephone network and standard Web servers that host VoiceXML applications; and the OpenCall speechWeb Portal Framework enables rapid service development of voice services in a portal environment. NB
In a recent article you suggested that VoiceGenie was your largest competitor in this space. Why do you feel this way?
EV I think that article over represented their importance as a competitor in the global server provider space. With VoiceXML-based products and technology integrated into our industry-leading OpenCall suite, we now combine the best of standalone VoiceXML solution with a telecom-grade platform which has unrivalled global professional support and extensive network connectivity experience. An offering like this from a global software player can clearly be seen as a threat to standalone VoiceXML platform companies. NB
Recently there have been moves to lower the price of browsers. How does this impact HP's position? Will we continue to see the price break of the 'speech solutions'?
EV Like other open standard software technologies, we do expect the VoiceXML interpreter itself to become commoditized over time. Having our own VoiceXML technology allows us to control its quality, architecture and product integration, and not rely on third parties. We also believe that our developer tools and global support considerably adds to the value of our solution. We have seen some dramatic improvements in the quality and cost of speech component technology; the overall effect has been a drop in the underlying cost per port. However, customers are aware that, in addition to hardware and software costs, deploying a voice application impacts numerous additional areas, e.g., provisioning, billing, marketing, etc. We feel we can continue to offer gains in price/performance and offer fully integrated solutions and services. NB
Compare speech solutions vs. other forms of customer service automation such as Web based, touch-tone and live agent support. What are your customers telling you about speech vs. other modes of customer interaction?
EV VoiceXML is not just about speech recognition - it also facilitates rapid and cost-effective development of touch-tone applications. We still see a lot of demand for touch-tone application, especially as a stepping-stone to speech solutions. As mobile technologies continue to expand with MMS, GPRS, 3G, and so forth, we expect to see further integration of voice technologies leading to more multimedia customer interactions. NB
Many in the speech industry certainly expected to see more speech applications by now. What are the hurdles that need crossing to increase the adoption rate of speech?
EV We need to market more effectively how voice technology has solved business needs for customers. So one hurdle is promoting solid reference cases where a voice solution has been successfully deployed and is generating revenue (or cutting costs) for the customer. This will encourage more skeptical customers that voice solutions do work and they do provide a real business benefit. The other hurdle is that vendors too often see voice technology in isolation from other technologies. We see voice as one strand of an interactive media solution and as we move forward we expect to see an increasing demand for converged solutions produced by companies with a global presence like HP.