James Colby, Vice President of Marketing & Business Development, Comverse

What does the partnership with Angel.com mean to Comverse?

James Colby This partnership allows Comverse to extend its relationships with over 400 wireless and wireline carriers in over 100 countries by allowing them to address the small and medium enterprise (SME) market with innovative voice-driven services. A majority of voice services offered today are targeted to large enterprise because, until recently, the cost of technology and the price of the skilled labor needed to build custom applications were high-entry barriers for the SME market. Together we offer a complete package of VoiceXML applications for deployment in any carrier network on the Comverse Media Server. The Comverse Media Server is available as a stand-alone platform or as an integral component of InSight, Comverse's value added services environment for next-generation voice and data services.

Briefly describe the service that Angel.com and Comverse are offering.

JC Whether it's a real estate office or a hardware store, small businesses have several needs and concerns in common, yet operate under some acute limitations. They want to appear professional, improve the customer experience and employee productivity, and reduce costs of customer care, all with a limited capital budget and little or no dedicated technical expertise. Voice-driven services for SMEs do this and more. Services like automatic call greetings, call routing, automated response to product and service inquiries, and store locator/ hours of operation are now available. SMEs can customize the services best suited to their needs by using Web-based wizards and self-service templates, essentially building their own dedicated voice response services in minutes without the need for engineering support or on-premises equipment.

How much will it cost a company to use this voice-activated service?

JC Companies using the Comverse/Angel.com solution will outsource their voice service needs from their usual network service providers. With the supporting infrastructure shared and the companies performing their own service customization via the Web, it means that the service can be offered at previously unseen price levels. Although the cost of these services will be determined by the network carrier, experience gained by Angel.com via its ASP business demonstrate that the services can be offered at rates equivalent to typical premium services offered in the market today that do not capitalize on speech-driven technologies.

How enticing is the SME market to the carrier community?

JC Approximately 82 percent of North American and 99 percent of Western European businesses are small to medium enterprises. These markets are largely untapped today because until now equivalent solutions were simply beyond the budgets afforded by an average small business.

How important are partnerships between companies in order for the speech industry to grow and succeed?

JC Very important. Partnerships that build upon the respective core strengths of each organization deliver more innovative and compelling solutions. As Comverse is the world's leading provider of value-added services in the global carrier space, our partnerships help to advance speech solutions with carriers worldwide.

Discuss your thoughts on how speech is currently impacting the carrier space. What about future applications?

JC The business models and competitive landscape are continuously evolving. Until now, take-up has been modest. As we've pointed out above, the self-service model for speech services may be just the boost that's needed - in the lucrative but untapped SME market, no less - to make speech more mainstream. To help service providers combat shrinking margins, Comverse is committed to providing the most innovative value-added solutions to the telecommunications industry. Open standards like VoiceXML will stimulate application development and alleviate interoperability concerns. Further, media servers will become an even more critical network component, as they allow the decoupling or separation of the network access layer from the business logic layer. This means that carriers need only perform one network integration for all of the VoiceXML-based applications that use a media server. Adding new applications becomes a simple testing effort to verify that the application logic is correct. Application developers are freed from the complexities of the network to focus on building truly compelling applications. The result is multiple applications targeted to multiple market segments for generating multiple revenue streams.

What are some tips you would provide carriers who are investing in speech?

JC A first-rate systems vendor should be able to provide carriers with complete managed business solutions that include conversational and command-based speech applications, application customization services, open standards-based carrier-grade platforms, and network integration. Other important qualities include local 24/7 support and a professional services organization that can help overcome staffing shortages and provide extensive knowledge to address everything from requirements definition to post-deployment training, speeding time to market.

Comverse teamed with Angel.com and Voice Partners during the Speech Solutions CHALLENGE last fall. Was that a worthwhile experience?

JC Comverse and its partners found the experience a very worthwhile one. Although hard work ruled the day, it was fun too. Not only did the CHALLENGE demonstrate that the new generation of speech technologies work, we were able to demonstrate that partnerships based around the VoiceXML standard can also deliver against the clock. The CHALLENGE was not an insignificant one for it was a high-pressure demonstration of skills and technology. To me, the list of industry players that did not enter the contest was just as telling as the list of vendors that did!

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