• September 1, 2004
  • Q & A

Michael Bergelson, CEO, Audium

Q. Mike please explain to us the role Audium plays in deploying speech solutions.
A. Audium's business is delivering the best packaged VoiceXML application software in the marketplace.  We focus on making our customers' jobs easier. We consider our customers to be the real speech application deployers, e.g., the designers, developers, QandA teams, and operations personnel. 

Our customers buy Audium because they want to deploy with a standards-based package instead of building completely from scratch, which can be very inefficient.  Speech projects are complex enough without having to spend time during a project worrying about the basics.  Our customers spend more time focusing on the "right problems" such as application objectives, usability and back-end integration -- not "heartbeat" functionality.

We are successful when a company uses our software with their existing IT processes and leverages the components we deliver -- or others they build or buy and snap in -- to build a great speech solution that saves their organization money.

Q. So it is crucial for you to have partners? How do you select these partnerships?
A. Audium is a channel-driven company, so great partner relationships are critical to our success.  Everything we do supports our channel and their efforts, from sales to delivery and customer care. 

We help make each partner's value proposition more compelling and help them differentiate their solutions from their competitors and win more business.  Since we rely so heavily on our channel, we can only meet our objectives if our partners are successful.

We look to partner with the best-in-industry market leaders; I think our current line up of partners really speaks for itself.   A key consideration for our customers is that Audium has contractual obligations to certify that our software is interoperable with our partner gateway platforms.  We also ensure that, when customers select an offering with Audium, the whole "ecosystem" of partner technologies and delivery capabilities work together in practice - and will continue to do so as technologies evolve.  This means our systems integrators are trained, our interoperability lab has extensively tested VoiceXML gateway compatibility from each of our certified vendors, and, of course, the speech technology performs as expected.

Any customer considering a third-party package like ours should ensure that there will not be any finger pointing between their vendors when troubles occur. In our experience, if the vendors do not have very clearly defined responsibilities, a number of issues can arise in the delivery cycle.

Q. Please provide our readers two recent deployments where Audium technology made a difference in their deployment.
A. One of our global integrators recently finished deploying a first-of-its-kind speech application for a large wireless provider in the Asia Pacific region.  The application automated a customer-facing business process using speech that, to our knowledge, has never been automated before on the telephone.  The mobile operator is seeing 85% cost savings and a customer preference for the automated speech system.

The value-add of Audium to the integrator was a reduction in complexity and risk in the development phase, and fewer man hours spent on the project overall.  The customer also benefited with the development of reusable components which can be leveraged in future speech rollouts in their region as well as in other operating companies.  So, future development efforts will roll out faster with even less risk, enabling lessons learned to be preserved throughout the global enterprise.

Another recent rollout was with one of our service bureau partners for a major financial institution for a multi-thousand port install.  This partner is seeing 70% reduction in development efforts ongoing, which obviously makes a major impact from a delivery perspective.  Additionally, this partner was able to differentiate their solution by providing a "best of breed" VoiceXML application package that had been customized to extend their unique capabilities to the customer.

Q. What do you think have been the three items making the most impact on deploying speech solutions over the last two years?
A. First, VoiceXML has become the proven "lingua franca" of speech deployments. This speeds innovation and improves the cost-performance ratio for solutions across the stack. 

Next, the technologies around VoiceXML have become mature to the point where customers can rely on standards-based solutions. We saw VoiceXML-based solutions do quite well against their proprietary peers in last year's Solutions Challenge, and we're clearly seeing the same in the market.

Finally, the market seems to be realizing the importance of application serving infrastructure for call center solutions. In years past, enterprises had a difficult time getting value from their WebSphere or WebLogic infrastructure in the contact center and specifically with the IVR; the IVR had become the unwanted stepchild of the enterprise. That's all changed with VoiceXML.

Q. Who would you say you compete against and what differentiates you from those competitors?
A. It goes without saying that our biggest competitor is do-it-yourself organizations who want to start from scratch.  Recently, though, we've found that more customers are realizing the benefits of VoiceXML application software earlier in their deployments. In the past few years, we would often get calls from customers a few months into a deployment; now most people start using our software during the initial planning phases.

What separates us from our direct competitors, beyond technology, is our approach to the market. We believe that customers should be able to choose the best players across the stack; otherwise why bother with VoiceXML at all?

To do that, we ensure that these components work reliably together, including professional services from third parties.  We believe that customers want the flexibility to choose their professional services organizations, rather than get locked into one technology vendor's solutions team. This is a clear difference between how we and our competitors look at the market.

Finally, we believe in the old-fashioned tenets of successful business. We are focused on profitability, building an impeccable reputation with our customers by providing the best support around our software, and on continuing research and development to make sure that our customers are buying into a roadmap that will always be state-of-the-art.

Some of our competitors seem to be focusing on venture capital, etc. Having lived through the rise and fall of Silicon Alley and the Internet boom, we're much more focused on our core value proposition, solving customers' problems, profitability and long-term innovation than growing for the sake of growth.

Q. OK Mike lets make some predictions, what will be the top two initiatives that we will be discussing at SpeechTEK 2005?
A. Next year, the hot topics will be the increasing importance of the enterprise middle-tier (i.e., application server) in the contact center and the further standardization of technologies for speech deployments. 

The role of the IT middle tier in the contact center is undeniable; it's just a question of when some vendors will start to support what customers are asking for.

On the latter point, we believe that our industry must continue to open up our solutions and encourage participation from a broad range of vendors. An example is the work we're doing with IBM around Eclipse, integrating proven tools and components from multiple vendors. 

Q. Last year Audium and Convergys were the inaugural winners of the Speech Solution CHALLENGE Peoples Choice Award what do you think were your keys to success?
A. That was a great event and an innovative showcase that both Audium and Convergys were happy to be a part of.   In these kinds of scenarios, building under an unnatural time crunch, the team you have really makes the difference.  We had a great team, and it helped that they knew that the technology would just work out of the box so they didn't have to spend time debugging heartbeat functionality. Frankly, though, I would say that luck had as much to do with it as anything else.

We're looking forward to this year's event because it pushes the industry to - pardon the cliché - eat their own dog food in a high stress scenario.

Q. Any last thoughts you care to share with us? 
A. Ultimately, speech is underdeployed relative to the value it provides and the actual technology readiness.  We believe that some vendors get too caught up in selling their widgets -- the technology -- and not providing solutions; these "widgeteers" end up confusing customers.

The debate around whether and how to build a speech application is over.  The industry now has to articulate solutions that dovetail with broader business initiatives and not just focus on point solutions and cost savings in the call center.  We've been working with our partners on this initiative and have been seeing excellent results.

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