Mark Flanagan, President, Envox Worldwide
Q. Tell us about Envox Worldwide and how you became president?
A. Let me start with Envox Worldwide, which is a leading global provider of voice solutions for service providers and enterprise customers. The company provides open, standards-based software development tools and platforms, along with related professional services that reduce the time, cost and complexity of creating voice solutions. In doing so, we help our customers to achieve significant cost reductions, deliver improved customer satisfaction and create new revenue streams. Our company enables them to continue to leverage the investment they've made in legacy systems, while providing a smooth migration path to new standards and emerging technologies, such as speech, VoiceXML and VoIP.
I personally have been working to advance the adoption of open, standards-based voice solutions since I founded Brooktrout Software in 1998. Brooktrout Software's Show N Tel product was one of the first open, standards-based platforms available. In 2001, we sold Brooktrout Software and formed Sonexis. Shortly thereafter, Envox Group expressed interest in growing their business by acquiring the Show N Tel assets from Sonexis, so a number of us helped them to do that. Then, in 2002, I joined Envox as part of a new management team that was formed to establish the company as a global leader in open, standards-based voice solutions. We've been working hard at that ever since.
Q. What is your current outlook for Envox Worldwide?
A. I am extremely positive about the outlook for Envox Worldwide. We are experiencing unprecedented demand for our software products and related professional services, as customers realize the benefits of open, standards-based solutions. Today, a growing number of enterprise customers and service providers are replacing their legacy communications systems out of frustration with high maintenance costs, inflexible architectures and the inability to add new capabilities as they are needed. For example, a telecommunications carrier recently replaced their voicemail system with a VoiceXML-based solution built on the Envox 6 Communications Development Platform after becoming frustrated with the limitations of their existing solution. It was costly to maintain and did not support the latest standards and technologies. We expect this trend to accelerate over the next couple of years.
Q. I understand you just acquired the Intel® NetMerge® Call Processing Software and NetMerge® CT ADE product lines. How does this acquisition affect Envox's future growth and its product portfolio?
A. This is an exciting time for Envox Worldwide. This acquisition further solidifies the company's leadership position in the global voice solutions market by expanding our customer base. As a result of the acquisition, Envox now has more than 1,000 customers, with more than one million ports actively deployed, on a worldwide basis. The CT ADE product line provides Envox with expanded presence in the IVR market and a broadened reach into more development organizations by providing a development tool for those who prefer to create voice solutions using standard programming languages such as C, C++, C#, and Visual Basic. The CPS product line gives Envox a strong foothold in the contact center market. CPS enables business applications to manage, monitor and control calls across multiple locations within mixed telephony switching environments. CPS provides integration to all common PBX/ACDs, including emerging IP PBXs, and speeds time to market for developers of contact center software solutions, including ISVs, system integrators, and service providers. When we add these products to our existing product line, which includes Envox 6 Communications Development Platform, Envox 6 VoiceXML Studio, and Show N Tel, we are now in a position to offer our customers a range of development and deployment options to ensure they achieve outstanding price/performance and ROI for the voice solutions they're creating.
Q. What are your customers saying about speech technology?
A. Customer interest in speech technology has never been higher. Customers that have already adopted speech love it, and others are evaluating it because of the number of highly-visible, successful implementations that now exist. Most of our customers are transitioning from DTMF-based solutions to speech-enabled solutions. Many times these customers take a phased implementation approach due to the constraints they're dealing with - be they budgetary, political or time constraints. A case in point is Microsoft. When planning the Windows® XP launch in the Asia Pacific region, they deployed an Envox-based solution to automate the license support requests received by their customer service department. With a tight deadline to implement their solution, Microsoft utilized the Envox platform to roll out a new DTMF-based licensing self-service IVR system in only three days. Only after they met this initial deadline, did they go back to speech-enable the application. When they added speech recognition technology, they saw their automation rates increase and improved customer satisfaction.
Q. What are some compelling reasons to utilize speech technology?
A. Today most large-scale customer service organizations understand that speech technology can significantly increase call automation rates compared to touchtone, as well as provide a user-friendly interface that callers prefer. Once you move outside of the self-service arena, you find service providers using speech technology for unique solutions that provide tremendous business value. For example, one of our business partners offers a two-way alert and notification solution for preventing fraudulent credit card transactions. Their competitive advantage lies in their ability to highly personalize these interactive alerts which is made possible with text-to-speech technology. Other Envox partners are seeing similar impacts in healthcare, directory assistance, and other key solution areas.
Q. Any other examples of recent customer speech deployments?
A. A great example for us of a really innovative solution is CyraCom International. This company provides phone-based interpretation services for hospitals and healthcare providers. Hospitals utilize CyraCom's phone services to access translators for more than 150 languages as they attend to non-English speaking patients. CyraCom recently speech-enabled their translation service so that medical professionals can speak the language they need translated rather than entering a three digit touchtone code - enabling a near instantaneous connection to the appropriate translator. CyraCom added this feature to make the service more user friendly, but they also benefited from a 65 percent decrease in calls requiring operator assistance - a huge cost savings.
Q. What is different about Envox 6 versus other platforms?
A. The Envox 6 platform stands above other platforms on three counts: speed of development and deployment; flexibility and scalability; and, as a bridge between investments made in legacy systems and those required to leverage new standards and technologies like VoiceXML and speech.
Our customers tell us that the Envox 6 platform enables them to reduce development and deployment time by 50 percent or more compared to traditional graphical development environments.
Envox 6 arguably supports the widest range of standards and emerging technologies in the industry, including VoiceXML. This empowers developers to create a wide range of voice solutions from a single development platform.
The Envox 6 platform also provides a bridge between legacy systems and new innovative voice solutions, allowing customers to leverage prior investments in hardware, software and solutions development. Customers can smoothly migrate to innovative solutions based on emerging technologies, such as VoIP, speech, VoiceXML, Web services and SS7, as a result.
Q. Envox recently announced a new product, the Envox 6 VoiceXML Studio. How does this enhance your product line?
A. Envox 6 VoiceXML Studio is a graphical development environment that accelerates the creation of VoiceXML 2.0-compliant voice solutions by 50 percent or more. Since VoiceXML has emerged as the preferred standard for user interface design and voice solution development, Envox 6 VoiceXML Studio will reduce the costs and time associated with VoiceXML development. In addition, Envox 6 VoiceXML Studio has been tightly integrated with Envox 6. When developers combine the two, the result is a complete VoiceXML offering with rapid development capabilities; additional development capabilities not covered by the VoiceXML 2.0 specification; a highly scalable, reliable and fault tolerant VoiceXML gateway; and powerful management capabilities.
Q. What should the developers of speech engines be doing to improve the end solution you provide to customers?
A. As any solution provider will tell you, the main barrier to speech adoption is still cost. Envox is working to combat this by offering specially priced Speech Starter Kits in conjunction with our speech technology partners.
Overall, I would have to say that a good user interface design is the key to success, but still a challenge. The skill set is rare, which adds to the time and expense of a speech-enabled solution. Envox fully supports initiatives such as ScanSoft's SpeechPAKs to package UI components and we use these products to augment our own professional services work. More importantly, we work hard to ensure these products are supported on the Envox 6 platform and made available to our development partners. In this way, we can further reduce the time, cost and complexity of creating speech-enabled solutions.
Q. Other than Envox, what are some companies in the communications space that you admire and why?
A. As a platform provider, Envox is constantly looking at companies that are developing innovative enabling technologies such as speech, VoIP, host media processing and more. We work very closely with companies that we believe are setting the pace for innovation and excellence including Intel, ScanSoft, Microsoft, and others.
Q. Any last thoughts you would like to leave with us?
A. When it comes to adopting speech technology, companies face many strategic choices, such as what partners to engage and where to focus their initial efforts. With our enterprise customers, Envox Worldwide often walks them through a discovery process to determine the cost and benefits of speech-enabled solutions. We identify such things as the cost advantages of moving to an open, standards-based solution, what automation rate increases are achievable, and the financial impact that speech technology will have on their business. I encourage any company moving to a speech-enabled solution to go through this process as a first step. They'll learn a great deal about their business and the advantages that speech technology can provide for them. And, they will have a much better understanding from the outset of where they are likely to find the largest cost and productivity gains.