Eric Giler, President, Brooktrout Technology
Tell us a little about Brooktrout and where do you expect to be in three to five years?
Eric Giler At Brooktrout Technology, we make products for voice, fax and call processing that are used in to develop applications and services for the New Network™ - a network that reflects the ongoing convergence of the PSTN and IP networks. I helped found the company in 1984, and it has been publicly traded since 1992. Our 350 employees are located around the world, with offices throughout the U.S., and in Belgium, Canada and the United Kingdom. Our overall strategy has both technology and business components: deliver technically superior board-level products for the enterprise and service provider markets, targeted at the unique and rapidly evolving requirements of speech and IP-based systems; and collaborate with our partners to help them increase existing business, expand into new markets, and accelerate the delivery of new value-added applications and services. We believe that the speech and IP segments of our business will continue to grow rapidly, and expect to see significant industry consolidation during the next three to five years. We're already seeing our competitors abandon the board-level product space, offering system-level platforms in hopes of higher margins. Microsoft's entry into the speech market clearly signals the transition from an early adopter to an early mainstream market, which will trigger significant growth and competition. I believe that Brooktrout is exceptionally well positioned to thrive in this standards-based, technology-driven environment.
Can you give us a preview of what you will be addressing at SpeechTEK during the afternoon leaders exchange?
EG The leaders exchange will focus on the integration of speech into the current communications infrastructure, and I'll discuss Brooktrout's role in simplifying integration within the standards-based PSTN and IP networks. In theory, standards support integration by abstracting underlying complexity in a well-defined way. However, especially in systems that have evolved over time (such as the PSTN), a wide variety of complex and interrelated standards arise that create technical obstacles for developers. Brooktrout's expertise in media processing and call control lets us create products that deal with this underlying complexity, so that application developers can focus on adding value and "leave the telephony to us." We also address the integration problem through what we call True Partnership. We effectively provide outsourced R&D through tight-knit partnerships and collaborative development, helping our partners leverage our capabilities to speed integration and time-to-market and focus instead on their own core competencies. These same types of issues also apply higher in the solution stack, where speech applications are integrated into existing infrastructure. New Web-based standards such as VoiceXML and SALT simplify integration with speech technology, as well as with the associated voice and data networks. For example, VoiceXML browsers can integrate best-of-breed technology (such as Brooktrout boards) and expose a simplified, standardized API to developers. Because they're based on Web standards, they also leverage existing system and application infrastructure. This makes it easy for application providers to specify best-of-breed components, as the switching costs are much lower. Of course, we're eager to compete as a best-of-breed product.
What benefits do you expect to reap from your recent partnership with VoiceGenie?
EG Brooktrout's partnership with VoiceGenie unites best-of-breed enabling technology - the award-winning TR1000 speech processing board - with the world's leading VoiceXML platform - the VoiceGenie VoiceXML Gateway - to deliver a next-generation standards-based speech platform. The TR1000 provides connectivity to the telephony network, and performs highly specialized preprocessing of the audio signal - including long-tail echo cancellation and first-pass "endpointing" - to improve system performance and accuracy. Brooktrout continues its commitment to the speech market by actively pursuing technology partnerships with leading speech vendors such as VoiceGenie that will allow us to provide reliable and interoperable communications products to our customers. Brooktrout's expertise in media processing platforms, coupled with VoiceGenie's leadership in VoiceXML gateway platforms, provides an ideal platform for the development of standards-based speech applications. This partnership allows the community of VoiceXML developers - as well as their 6,000+ applications - to take advantage of this advanced technology, so applications using our products can be developed with ease and deployed with confidence.
How important is it to provide users free access to develop and test their own voice-enabled interactive phone applications?
EG Brooktrout's partnership philosophy reflects the observation that you never know where the next good idea will come from. We've designed our business model and our partner programs to support not only the established vendors, but also the many smaller companies that help drive innovation in speech applications. VoiceXML, SALT and other standards have lowered the technical barriers to entry for these companies, while platform vendors have lowered the financial barriers as well by offering free, hosted development environments, as VoiceGenie has done with its VoiceGenie Developer Workshop. We believe that these new standards, and the innovation they foster, will be critical to the future success of speech applications.
Why would someone choose Brooktrout over another board vendor?
EG Brooktrout was not the first to market with voice boards, and we recognized that our products had to deliver significant performance benefits if we were to be successful. One of the problems we saw is that speech systems still suffered from a number of performance bottlenecks that we could address with appropriate use of our DSP and processor technology. It also became clear that our competitors were continuing to produce "just another telephony card." So, we led the industry with improved echo-cancellation technology to improve recognition accuracy during barge-in. We implemented advanced voice activity detection to provide first-pass endpointing compatible with speech systems in order to boost system scalability. We optimized our drivers and firmware, then demonstrated the highest-density speech system on the market. Going forward, Brooktrout will continue to invest in providing superior enabling technology to optimize overall speech system performance, scalability and cost. Just as important as this advanced technology is what we do to make it easily accessible to our customers and partners. Brooktrout's "True Partner" philosophy is real, and at the core of our company values. We invest in our customers' success by selling products direct, providing free technical support and training from the factory, offering joint marketing and sales programs, and collaborating throughout the development cycle to get them to market - and to revenue - as quickly as possible.
With the rapid adoption of VoiceXML and SALT standards, how does that affect board vendors like Brooktrout?
EG Brooktrout's customers, many of whom are OEMs and ISVs, have already developed plans to implement a standard-based speech platform. This provides them with a choice of best-of-breed suppliers without being locked in to a single vendor, plus the ability to tie these new platforms into their existing standard-based Web platforms. They can control their own destiny and that's very compelling. As for the VoiceXML vs. SALT debate, we're completely neutral. Standards come and go (e.g., S.100), we support them all, and benefit from the surrounding battles. We expect that, as the existing standards converge, there will be consolidation that will benefit the speech industry and its customers.
What role will telephony boards play as systems move toward IP?
EG Overall, we look at ourselves as having three major and enduring areas of differentiation: media processing, call control, and providing outsourced R&D via tight-knit partnerships and collaborative development, what we refer to as our True Partnership. These differentiators persist in a TDM world as well as in an IP world, and are independent of how they're implemented in software and hardware. We plan to evolve and compete on these same three differentiators for a long time to come.
What do you think can be done to help prospective customers move toward speech enablement?
EG A pervasive issue has been the high cost of high performance speech systems. Computing technology has finally become just powerful enough to support speech applications with the accuracy expected by consumers. To reduce the cost of deploying a speech system, developers will need to support higher density speech processing through faster processors, advanced voice processing resources (such as DSPs), or both. Of course, additional computational power must also be applied to the problem of deploying reliable speech systems. The extensive tuning needed to ensure robust performance adds significant time, cost and risk to the financial equation today. Although improved optimization tools and experienced professional services organizations can help, only time (and Moore's Law) will truly solve this problem. Finally, as the market and technology continues to mature, a variety of standards will be proposed and eventually adopted to ease the design and deployment of speech systems. We're seeing that now at the application level, with VoiceXML, SALT and their derivatives rapidly evolving; Microsoft's entry is sure to drive the API standards process forward at an accelerated rate. Speech technology and telephony platform vendors continue to offer proprietary APIs, reflecting the relative immaturity of their technology and markets; as a result, third-party VoiceXML platform vendors have emerged to hide this complexity from the application developer. Speech will become truly pervasive when open standards are adopted throughout the entire solution stack, driving down costs and promoting innovation at the application layer.
Can speech-enablement be positioned as a productivity enhancement, rather than just a cost-savings measure? If so, will that happen on an application-by-application basis?
EG ROI is necessary, especially in the current economic climate, but many times it's not sufficient. When customers see new capability, the opportunity to improve customer satisfaction, not just lower cost, then investing is much more attractive.
The telecom space has been through a rough period during the last three years. How has Brooktrout managed through this tough time?
EG We've been able to avoid layoffs and continue investment in R&D primarily through careful management and a well-diversified business. We've done this not just because we're nice people, but because we're confident that it leaves us well-positioned to take advantage of the business recovery that's already beginning to occur.
Who are some of your partners in providing speech technology and why did you choose those companies?
EG Brooktrout partners with leading speech technology and application vendors to provide our mutual customers with best-of-breed solutions. Our partners range from well-known companies such as VoiceGenie, ScanSoft, Nuance and Lucent to upcoming companies such as Diaphonics, Babel Technologies, Sail Labs and Loquendo. Our most successful partnerships are based not only on complementary products and services, but also on shared values of close partnership and technical innovation. Prospective partners are encouraged to learn more about our Partner Access Network Program™ (http://www.brooktrout.com/accessnetwork/), which provides early access to our newest technology, direct technical and porting assistance, as well as joint marketing opportunities and lead referral programs.
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