John Shea, Vice President of Product Marketing & Management, Nuance Communications
NewsBlast: What are the Nuance Flexible Application Suites and what benefits do they bring to Nuance's customers and partners?
John Shea: The Nuance Flexible Application Suites, or Nuance FASt, are industry-specific packaged speech applications that enable rapid deployment of voice automation solutions. Compared to built-from-scratch speech applications, they can accelerate deployment time by as much as 40 percent. Flexible Application Suites are available for retail banking, insurance, credit card financial services, telecommunications and utilities. Each industry-specific FASt includes a number of specific applications. For example, the Nuance Insurance FASt allows a caller to log in, change their address, locate an agent, get rate information, find out the status of their claim, etc.
In addition to enabling rapid deployment, FASt applications help ensure high caller automation and satisfaction rates, since we have included voice user interface design best practices developed through hundreds of Nuance deployments across industries. They also include a robust graphical design and development environment that empowers companies to configure, change and maintain applications themselves. This can save customers and partners hundreds of thousands of dollars per year since they can perform this work internally and avoid paying third parties. We have architected FASt to help partners more easily build out voice solutions and to provide them a great deal of flexibility. For example, partners can use the Nuance tools to configure these applications or they can integrate FASt within their own design and development environments.
We will be showing FASt off at V-World next week in Orlando so we encourage everyone to come and get all the details.
NB: How do Nuance partners leverage FASt with their own platforms?
JS: One of the many reasons that "flexible" is in the name of the offering is because FASt can be implemented on a variety of platforms and includes options for VoiceXML, traditional IVR and SALT environments. We are currently working with a number of partners to enable them to leverage FASt as part of their offerings.
NB: How does FASt fit with Nuance's other packaged application offerings?
JS: With the introduction of FASt, companies can leverage packaged speech applications to automate their call center end-to-end. Now, companies have the ability to leverage packaged speech applications that do everything from initially answering the phone call with a natural language main menu application that determines where a caller needs to go and quickly routes them (with Nuance Call SteeringTM) to securely authenticating callers using voiceprint technology (Nuance Caller AuthenticationTM) to automating the resulting industry-specific transactions using Nuance FASt.
To our knowledge, Nuance is the first vendor to offer packaged applications to automate call centers end-to-end.
NB: Shifting to the Nuance Voice PlatformTM (NVP) - what is different between NVP 3.0 and the previous version?
JS: There are three key differences between NVP 3.0 and the previous version.
First, Nuance Voice Platform 3.0 features a new application design and deployment environment called Nuance Application EnvironmentTM. It has been specifically tailored to enable people who are familiar with IVR integrated development environments to more easily create and modify speech applications. Web programmers can also take advantage of NAE to develop VoiceXML applications. With NAE, enterprises and partners can more easily design, deploy and maintain speech applications.
Second, Nuance Voice Platform 3.0 also supports Nuance's latest speech recognition, voice authentication and text-to-speech technologies to provide higher automated call completion rates and improved caller satisfaction.
Finally, Nuance Voice Platform 3.0 adds the Linux operating system to the previously supported Solaris and Windows 2000 operating systems. This provides businesses even greater flexibility in deploying their speech solutions on inexpensive IT infrastructure and ensures that companies can change operating systems in the future without risking their voice platform investment.
NB: In the press release, you state that 'NVP is the fastest-selling product in Nuance history.' How is this measured and over what time period are you referring?
JS: NVP is off to a great start. If you compare each of Nuance's products on the basis of number of ports shipped or new customers signed during the first year after being introduced, Nuance Voice Platform wins hands down.
NB: There are a number of platform choices available today - why should an enterprise buy into Nuance Voice Platform?
JS: While there are a number of platform options available today, from our experience enterprises and carriers are able to quickly narrow the field down to just a few. And I am pleased to say that Nuance is usually on the short list of platform vendors being considered. There are a number of reasons why companies favor NVP. I'll just cover three of the reasons for now:
For starters, companies are looking for an open, standards-based VoiceXML platform that is proven. Demand for open, standards-based solutions has been so great that many vendors now offer some level of support for VoiceXML. But companies are reluctant to entrust their mission-critical speech applications to run on these new, relatively immature VoiceXML platforms. That's why so many businesses are choosing Nuance Voice Platform. Nuance's VoiceXML platforms are used by more than 300 businesses. Companies using them include Countrywide Financial Corporation, Bell Canada, United Airlines, Wells Fargo and many other industry leaders.
Another important factor has to do with companies' desire to retain control over their speech solutions. Rather than relying on third party services organizations, businesses want to build and maintain the solution using their internal application development and support teams. In the past, this has required highly specialized speech application design and development skills, which IT organizations simply do not possess. NVP addresses this skills gap via the Nuance Application Environment. With NAE, enterprises can take advantage of capabilities and features that incorporate Nuance's vast design experience and best practices accumulated from a myriad of client engagements and reflect more than 600 man-years of speech application design experience.
Finally, enterprises are choosing NVP due to its support for the latest in speech-enabling technologies. Simply put, enterprises know that the latest advancements to speech technologies directly impact the bottom line. For example, Nuance 8.5 speech recognition software dramatically improves accuracy rates that can result in as many as 50 percent fewer calls going to agents compared to Nuance 8.0. This means that customer self-service rates increase, resulting in incremental savings of as much as $10 million annually. Enterprises deploying on Nuance Voice Platform 3.0 can take advantage of these accuracy improvements right now.
NB: When NVP was introduced, you had partners questioning their relationship with Nuance. How have you integrated partners into a sales channel to provide an efficient distribution and support system for enterprise customers?
JS: I am not sure the assumption is quite right. I believe the competition encouraged our partners to question our loyalty to the channel model. But most of those concerns, real or imagined, have proven to be unfounded. Our reseller relationships are stronger than ever. In fact, most of our revenues in 2003 came from our channel partners. And the momentum with our partners continues to grow, as does our commitment to their success. In the last six months, we have released to the partners new versions of all of our speech engines - speech recognition, voice authentication and TTS. The dramatic improvements and new functionality in these products confirmed to our partners that we are committed to making them successful. And as we discussed earlier, FASt can be implemented on partners' platforms which allows them to add further value to their offerings. Moreover, we have continued to adjust our selling approach in the field to ensure that we provide to our partners the support they are looking for. The response from our partners to these product advancements and co-selling programs has been incredible.