Ken Waln, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Edify
Q. Ken, as Edify CTO, co-founder and one of the original patent owners, you have been with Edify throughout many industry technology advancements. Please share with us your thoughts on this space and the changes that have happened at Edify. A. The speech industry is in an exciting phase. The technology is solid and standards like VoiceXML are removing some of the barriers to adoption. Now that speech is becoming an accepted way of interacting with customers, we are beginning to see the vast improvement it can bring to the quality of service as well as the compelling returns on investment. I am excited to be at Edify during this market transition. Edify President and CEO, Mitch Mandich and the strong management team he has built for our organization, have focused our efforts on being the best speech solutions company in the industry and providing real value to our customers and our global markets across all industries.
Q. Describe your new platform release (Edify 9.0 EVIP) and the key features it offers your customers.
A. The Edify Voice Interaction Platform (EVIP™) 9.0 is the latest release of our award-winning, open-standards enterprise voice platform. EVIP 9.0 provides additional capabilities in a new, native Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) interface based on Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and also supports the latest releases from ScanSoft (OSR 3.0) and Nuance (Recognizer 8.5). With this release, Edify continues our core theme of offering our customers the most choice in their voice and speech solutions by separating out the VoiceXML 2.0 browser functionality from the Voice Application Server and tools. This not only allows Edify to continue offering comprehensive business solutions to our customers, but to also offer the specific modularized offerings needed for a company to deploy our solutions with other VoiceXML browsers or to utilize our browser with other application solutions. In addition, this functionality opens up various partnership opportunities with application vendors and other platform vendors.
Q. Why focus so heavily on VoIP with this offering?
A. Although VoIP has been widely available from vendors in this space, we are finally seeing real plans and real adoption within enterprises. We are seeing increased adoption at the infrastructure level and lots of interest at the speech application level. EVIP 9.0 will allow Edify systems to be seamlessly integrated into these infrastructures enabling organizations to realize significant cost savings. Also, by having a native SIP interface that does not require any gateways, Edify enables enterprises to take full advantage of the capabilities of VoIP, including some advanced call control that is difficult in a traditional PSTN environment.
Q. What are the issues that impact speech technology when deployed in a VoIP environment?
A. In many ways, VoIP is just another telephone interface, but in practice there are challenges. The biggest challenges are voice quality and compatibility. Voice quality is of course extremely important to the accuracy of speech recognition engines. Fortunately most of these problems are well understood and can be solved with the correct Quality of Service (QoS) infrastructure, although they can still present challenges as the calls reach beyond the enterprise via VPNs or other shared networks. There is a related issue around echo cancellation, which affects barge-in performance. Most IP calls are going through gateways that may do more or less echo cancellation and the speech system needs to cancel as much as possible of the remaining echo for barge-in to work well. On the compatibility side, SIP is definitely the standard of choice, but many early adopters of VoIP implemented H.323 or a proprietary protocol and will need a converter (known as a SIP proxy) in order to interface to SIP devices. This can require some careful configuration and testing in order to operate correctly, particularly where calls are being transferred.
Q. What can speech engine vendors do to assist in the migration to a VoIP environment?
A. The speech vendors have done a good job of adapting to the signal characteristics of VoIP calls. Their continued work in this area will minimize any recognition accuracy degradation caused by the various VoIP code options. The movement to MRCP as a standard interface will also help, as it will allow common protocols across implementations and vendors.
Q. How should a current Edify customer using an older version of your platform analyze the decision to upgrade to 9.0?
A. There are actually three types of upgrades that a customer should consider. The first and easiest is to upgrade to the EVIP 9.0 version of our software. The upgrade to EVIP 9.0 will provide their organization all maintenance changes since our last release, support for new versions of Nuance, ScanSoft, XML, and SOAP, and a longer period of maintenance and support. Edify has always believed in and instilled the philosophy of providing our customer base with the latest versions of our software without requiring any "forklift" upgrades or application rewrites. Generally covered under their maintenance agreement, the decision really comes down to choosing the right time for their organization to proceed. A second upgrade possibility would be to move to VoIP. This is more of a customer infrastructure decision and will in most cases be driven by new applications or a major infrastructure shift. A third upgrade would be to move to the Voice Browser/Voice Application Server (n-tier) architecture. EVIP 9.0 allows customers to make this decision gradually by running new applications or parts of applications in a distributed model while leaving existing applications intact and running on the same platform.
Q. Share with us your thoughts on your product path over the next year or so. What guidance can you provide your customers and partners?
A. Our general philosophy will not change - we want to create the best speech products and solutions for our customers to improve the nature of customer service while increasing its efficiency. Edify wants to change the way our clients interact with their customers, making it easier, intuitive, and far more natural. As VoIP becomes more mainstream, we expect we will make additional investments in making this easier and more cost effective for our customers. Edify will continue to follow and contribute to standards and support those that make sense for our customers. We will also continue to invest in tools and features to make solutions easier to deploy and accelerate the adoption of speech across a broader base of businesses and applications.
Q. What are the technology issues that someone who has never deployed a speech solution should evaluate before deploying speech?
A. The technology issues have become fairly easy over the last couple of years and are really the same as in any significant application deployment. You need to find vendors you trust and can partner with and plan for current capacity and future growth. You need a platform that can scale with your business, has a history of reliability and serviceability, and adheres to open standards. More important than the technology is the overall deployment strategy. What applications will have the best return on investment? How can you go beyond cost savings to improve the customer experience and increase retention and lifetime customer value? How can you phase the project so you maximize both short-term benefits and still get the longer-term value? Speech can offer so much more than just improving existing processes that it is important to proactively take the initiative and effectively evaluate how it can improve all facets of your operations.