Eileen Rudden, Vice President of the Enterprise Communications Applications Division, Avaya

Q. How does Avaya's position in VoIP, contact centers and messaging translate into success for customers looking to deploy speech self service?
A. Avaya and its partners have the most experience advising customers on how speech-enabled solutions can add value as well as how to deploy them effectively.  These are new and emerging technologies, and by virtue of our position, we have the broadest experience in deploying some of the largest applications of speech self service out there.

Our customers see success across a range of areas. Our messaging customers, for example, use speech self service to provide mobile knowledge workers with more communication services, such as accessing voice mails, emails, contacts and calendars via speech access.  Avaya's contact center customers also provide improved customer service at lower cost by deploying speech-based self-service applications.

We also see our voice customers embracing capabilities such as speech-based directories for dialing. More customers are ultimately looking to leverage their application software assets with speech services, especially as they build out their IP communications infrastructures.  We are in a better position to work with them on speech applications because Avaya is a trusted partner in many voice application areas. 

Q. How strategic is speech recognition to Avaya's overall success in the marketplace?
A.  Speech is a central component of Avaya's strategy to weave communications into all types of business processes.  By doing so, we help companies turn communications into a competitive advantage - making mobile workers more productive and customers more satisfied. 

After all, our company's central focus is voice applications, and speech user interfaces are the next step in that evolution.  We have always distinguished our infrastructure offerings with our rich applications offers, and this is a fast growing applications area.

Our engineering legacy in this area is also rich: more than a decade ago, as part of AT&T, our engineers deployed speech self service in a project that automated operator services.  This was a massive deployment with thousands of ports in service.  Later, we implemented some of the earliest trials of natural language speech technology, beginning with customers in the financial services sector.  Several years ago, we were among the first to introduce speech access for email, voicemail and calendar applications. This approach to unified communications is a central component of our strategy to empower enterprises and their employees, especially as they are increasingly mobile, and need to access more communications services away from their desks and PCs.

Q. What is Avaya's services strategy related to speech application design resources?
A. Successful speech applications solution providers must employ a reliable platform, powerful development tools, as well as deploy services skills such as systems integration, user interface design, dialog design, grammar design, application creation, and overall implementation and solution support.  Avaya combines great products with the strong self-service focus of its own Avaya Consulting Services organization and our robust Avaya DeveloperConnection (DevConnect) partner community.  The Avaya DevConnect program enables Avaya partners to certify their specialized products and speech-related services for performance with the Avaya platform, which ensures that we can deliver and support the reliable applications customers demand. 

Avaya DevConnect partners in the speech arena include: Accuvoice, Gold Systems, Interactive Northwest, Servion, Targus Information Systems, Viecore, InfoTalk, IQ Services, ScanSoft, Loquendo, and Nice, to name a few.  We believe our focus on open standards will continue to attract partners to our speech ecosystem.

Q. Share with the readers a recent customer deployment and provide some statistics of the speech deployment.
A. We provide speech solutions to customers both large and small in a wide range of vertical markets.  On the large enterprise end of the spectrum, we delivered one of the largest VoiceXML speech applications in the world to a financial services company that provides credit card services in 40 countries around the globe - helping them to improve customer satisfaction while cutting costs.  'Change of address' requests represented seven percent of the company's calls, which could not be handled by the previous generation of DTMF interactive response.  A new Avaya VoiceXML solution now handles those requests, with 3,200 ports processing 90 million calls a year.  This secure, configurable solution has helped the company improve self-service and reduce call-handling costs by $1.5 million in 2004.

Avaya also worked with the American Automobile Association (AAA) of Minnesota/Iowa.  We helped the organization transform customer service for auto club members by speech-enabling calls for roadside assistance, membership renewals, map and tour book requests and other key requests. Avaya integrated speech into the organization's existing Avaya IP contact center and touchtone interactive voice response system.  With the new solution in place, the club now handles 15-20 percent of all incoming calls with speech, resulting in a 20 percent improvement in its self-service call completion rate and saving nearly $470,000 a year.  In addition, the club has improved employee retention and has increased its sales results since agents now provide a deeper level of customer service.

Q. What is Avaya's partner strategy for speech applications?
A.  Avaya is actively working with a range of partners in order to deliver end-to-end solutions to customers and to drive open standards that expand the speech applications ecosystem.   For example, we have a DeveloperConnection program to build a community of speech applications partners, and we have strong ongoing alliances with ScanSoft and Nuance.  I mentioned some other partners earlier, which have vertical applications expertise and other specialized abilities.

Most recently, we announced a new alliance with IBM to deliver speech-enabled self-service solutions. These solutions leverage IBM's leading position in business middleware and speech and Avaya's leadership in global contact centers.  These solutions integrate Avaya IP contact center software for self-service with IBM WebSphere® infrastructure software and speech technology.  This provides businesses with a single, integrated, standards-based platform for a new generation of customized speech applications.

We believe customers will build Web applications that include speech as a user interface into apps with common business logic. So partnering with a Web application powerhouse makes sense to us.

Q. What is the greatest opportunity you see for growth within the self-service market and where is Avaya investing resources? 
A.  In the past, speech applications have often been complicated and costly to deploy.  They could be justified for only the largest of companies with applications serving millions of calls per year.  That's why you see them today primarily in the contact centers of the largest consumer products and services companies.   Experience with those applications is now enabling Avaya and our partners to make the applications simpler and therefore more accessible to a broader market. This is where we are investing.

We do this through open, interoperable components, as well as by simplifying solutions packaging and building alliances. The Avaya Speech Application Builder, for instance, brings together applications design with a rich library of pre-built components all intended to speed development and reduce costs. 

We will also continue to invest in bringing complete speech self-service applications to market, such as Avaya Unified Communication Center, which gives end users seamless access to applications ranging from voicemail, email, corporate directories, calendars and tasks - all through speech access.

Q. Where will Avaya take a leadership role?
A.  We believe that competitive advantage is less about what you have and more about how you execute.  So you'll see Avaya taking a leadership role not by pursuing speech in an isolated way—but instead by embedding the capability in all that we do, whether it's IP telephony solutions for a distributed enterprise, contact centers that help businesses redefine customer service, or unified communications apps supporting mobile executives. We have platform expertise, application expertise and system integration expertise in this area.

Q. What is the greatest weakness/risk in the self-service market?  How is Avaya mitigating that risk?
A. The greatest challenge in the speech self-service market is to drive customer adoption to meet our hopes for this technology.  We have invested ahead of the market, to "prime the pump" with success stories.  We will have to continue to simplify these technologies, driving down the total cost of developing and deploying speech applications (whether packaged or custom).  That will expand market adoption, as speech becomes more cost effective for a broader set of applications. 

The second risk is that poorly designed speech applications get fielded, which angers end users as they "get lost" and hang up.  This could give the segment a bad name.  Our most successful customers increase customer satisfaction, while lowering costs.   

Avaya actively pursues a product development path that offers businesses an evolutionary approach to incorporating technology into their enterprise, without requiring a forklift upgrade of their existing infrastructure.  Our emphasis is on simple, standards-based solutions that give companies a cost-effective way to place communications at the heart of the enterprise.

We have a similar emphasis on simplicity of operation.  If you think back to the early days of touchtone interactive response applications, there were frequent problems with menu structures that were too deep and circuitous.  Businesses have to be very careful not to repeat that mistake. Avaya addresses this by making sure applications are simple and straightforward to use and easy to deploy.

Q. Any last thoughts?
A. This is an exciting time to be involved in speech technology.  The economy is recovering, and the pace of investment is quickening.  Effective interaction with customers is a very high business priority.  Businesses are realizing that communications is at the heart of their operations and are investing in solutions that can help them build competitive advantage.  This makes it a perfect time for Avaya and other providers to deliver speech-enabled solutions that are integral to business processes - helping make employees more mobile and productive while allowing businesses to deliver higher levels of customer satisfaction.

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