Mike Sajor, Vice President of Business development, Kirusa
Q Tell us a little about Kirusa. How did you get started, who are your investors, what are your plans to grow this business?
A Kirusa is a multimodal infrastructure company that has developed multimodal technology (with several patents pending) for the delivery of data applications using multimodal interfaces. This next generation of wireless technology allows users to customize the presentation of information on wireless devices by either alternating, or simultaneously receiving data through visual and voice interfaces.
Kirusa was started in late 2000 by four founders: Inderpal Mumick, CEO of the company, CTO Sandeep Sibal, Lou Golm, formerly President of Airtouch International and Barinderpal Mumick. The founders recognized early on that multimodality is rapidly emerging as the compelling force empowering the speech and mobility applications industry - that speech interfaces alone, or visual interfaces alone, are just too hampered and frustrating in terms of flexibility, comfort and ease of use to gain the broad adoption required to drive the industry forward. They saw multimodality as the enabler of the entire value chain, providing the satisfying ease of use and productivity advantages that propel subscriber uptake and penetration of mobility applications. Kirusa was created with the crisp focus to create, productize and deploy the multimodal technologies required to operationalize that vision.
Kirusa secured a first round of funding by France Telecom Innovacom, Deutsche Bank, Silicon Alley Seed Investors, and several angel investors in April 2001. The company is headquartered in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.
Kirusa targets mobile operators and enterprises worldwide that seek to provide their customers with a highly differentiated, engaging and revenue-generating end user experience for their mobile applications and services. We've been making significant progress in mobility markets in Europe and North America thus far; in 2003, with the addition of a second round of funding, we anticipate growing and deepening our presence across the globe, as we reinforce our position as a world leader in multimodal infrastructure.
Q Where do you fit in the wireless communications space?
A Kirusa's solutions provide a vehicle for mobile applications to be rendered "multimodally," that is, using voice and visual interface technologies where best suited to optimize the interaction experience.
Today's standalone visual and voice user interfaces are severely limited, handicapping the growth and mass adoption of wireless mobile applications. Visual interfaces such as those enabled by WAP and i-Mode are limited by the physical form factor of the screens and keypads on mobile devices. Reading small text or keying in data by hand frustrates most users. Voice interfaces overcome the form factor problems of visual interfaces but are not practical for communicating graphic information, long lists, or complex instructions. Such elements, common to many applications, strain one's memory and are better suited for visual interfaces.
Kirusa's patent-pending technology and multimodal platform combines the best functionality of both visual and voice interfaces. Mobile consumers may use a combination of visual and voice interfaces within an application session. Kirusa's platform has addressed and solved the four major obstacles to the successful delivery of multimodal applications:
·Synchronization of voice and visual browsers
·Execution and optimization of mode swapping and active modes for multiple device and channel configurations
·Expression and interpretation of applications for multimodality; and
·Billing, operations, administration, maintenance and provisioning in a carrier-grade environment.
Kirusa's multimodal platform, then, resides within the mobile operator's or enterprise's environment, accepting a "multimodal markup language" from mobile applications. A strong believer in open standards, Kirusa is a member of both the SALT Forum and the W3C, and today supports both SALT and X+V markup languages. We're not application developers - we team with and support those with specific subject matter expertise to create world-class applications - but through empowering a high-quality multimodal end-user experience, we enable applications to become simple, compelling, and efficient and profitable.
Q Who are some of your partners and why did you chose those companies to partner with Kirusa?
A Kirusa's multimodal platform products are integrated with speech technology and platform solutions from suppliers including NMS Communications, Nuance, SpeechWorks, SandCherry, Telisma, VoiceGenie, Voxeo, Voxpilot and others. Our goal is to give customers choice in building multimodal infrastructures, which might, for example, include leveraging previously-embedded speech technologies.
We work very closely with our partners to assure our customers have access to an end-to-end integrated ecosystem of all the piece-parts required to make multimodal applications a reality. As just one example of our partnership activities, together, Kirusa and SandCherry integrated Kirusa's SALT-based multimodal platform with SandCherry's SoftServer platform for application resource brokering, to drive compelling multimodal wireless applications built with SALT.
Kirusa has also created a broad ecosystem of application developers realizing multimodal end-user experiences through the Kirusa Application Development Program (KADP.) KADP provides low investment access to tools, development environments, support and global test platforms for creating advanced multimodal applications. Partners such as 8hertz, Tell-Eureka, Metaphor Solutions, and many others are actively realizing multimodal applications based on Kirusa technologies.
Kirusa is also working with systems integrators to pull the entire solution for multimodality together, including partnering with mobility-space leaders such as Internet Systems in Spain and DS Group in Italy.
Q Tell us about a recent deployment and how Kirusa provided a solution to your customer.
A Kirusa has deployments in place today at mobile operators and enterprises in Europe and North America. Two exciting mobile operator trials of particular note are underway at France Telecom/Orange France and at Bouygues Telecom.
Kirusa, together with Telisma, has enabled France Telecom's multimodal trials on the Orange GPRS network in France. This trial has been under way for several weeks, and results from the trial have been very positive. A solution based on Kirusa's multimodal platform and Telisma's VoiceXML and speech platform, as well as human factors and ergonomics of several forms of multimodality, are being evaluated. The trial will continue for the next several months, and features real Orange and France Telecom subscribers interacting with multimodal applications in scientifically designed and instrumented evaluations over the Orange GPRS network in France.
Meanwhile, at Bouygues Telecom, after evaluation of several multimodal platform suppliers, a multimodal trial was initiated using Bouygues' GPRS network in France. Bouygues Telecom developed a suite of applications designed to explore the human factors of multimodality. Results after extensive end-user testing of simultaneous multimodality in a real GPRS mobile network environment have been most encouraging, and work continues to move forward with multimodality at Bouygues.
Kirusa has evaluations and trials in place and operating today at several other mobile operators and enterprises as well. The significant interest in exploring multimodality that we're seeing is evidence that the space is very alive and healthy.
Q There have been a lot of attempts to make this space become more 'mainstream' why do you think Kirusa's offering can make 'multimodality' mainstream?
A Three reasons:
First, the end user experience provided by a multimodal solution must be compelling, easy to use and attractive to end-users. Kirusa's approach to delivering multimodal experiences has been proven from an ergonomics perspective in trials by well-known mobile operators such as France Telecom, Orange France and Bouygues Telecom. Through our patented technologies, we are certain that the end-user experience we deliver creates demand and is compelling and engaging for the subscriber or user.
Secondly, to be effective, a multimodal solution must support a broad array of mobile devices - not just a select few. A multimodal infrastructure provider has to realize that the market is constantly shifting; devices are going to gain functionality and power, but the migration will take time. Carriers need to monetize multimodal applications immediately leveraging devices already widely deployed in their networks. To really provide value, a multimodal solution must support the breadth of the market - which Kirusa does by providing quality solutions for all three forms of multimodality:
·Sequential Multimodality, where users may move seamlessly between visual and voice modes. Sequential multimodality offers real value when different steps of a single application may be more effective or efficient in one mode than the other. For example, in a navigation application, it may be easier to speak the name of the place (voice mode) than to type it, yet it may be preferable to view the map (visual mode) than to listen to directions that may involve a half dozen turns. The swap may be initiated by the application or by the user. Sequential multimodality is supported on a wide variety of class A, B and C, and 2G, devices, with absolutely no changes required on the handset to enable multimodal application delivery.
·Simultaneous Multimodality, where the device has both modes active, empowers the user to use voice and visual communication simultaneously. For example, in a mapping example, a user can point to a street on the map and say, "Plan route, avoiding this street." In a retail banking application, with "From Account", "To Account", and "Amount" boxes on the screen, the user may simply speak "Transfer $5000 from Account 123 to Account 456", and all three form entry boxes would be populated correctly as a result of the single utterance. Results can be delivered in voice mode, or visual, or both - giving positive confirmation of the transaction. Simultaneous multimodality is supported in 2.5G and beyond on class A devices where both a voice and data channel can be kept active simultaneously, with packet voice configurations (e.g. a wirelessly-enabled PocketPC, SmartPhone, Palm or J2ME/BREW enabled devices) or with two device configurations.
·SMS Multimodality allows users to leverage SMS messages as the compelling visual component of a multimodal application. Imagine asking in voice for three-star hotels within 1 mile of Paris' Porte Maillot district, seeing that list in a SMS message, and asking in voice for more information about a selected property. SMS multimodality is supported on virtually any mobile device capable of SMS reception.
Third, from an implementation perspective, the solution must offer flexibility, integrability, and choice. Kirusa today supports all major mobile networks, including CDMA, CDMA 1x/3x, GSM, GPRS, UMTS, iDEN and others. We support SALT, X+V and other multimodal markup languages, and as the standards evolve, our approach enables rapid support of new languages. Finally, our partnerships and integrations with major speech platform and technology suppliers, such as SandCherry, Voxpilot, Telisma and many others, enable Kirusa to deliver an end-to-end solution that fits within a mobile operator's or enterprise's "footprint," and offers the scalability, reliability and maintainability required to really deliver a production-grade suite of multimodal applications.
Q You mention in an October 2, 2002 article in Venture Wire that you are expanding in Europe and waiting to 2003 to expand in the US due to more of these services becoming available in the US. What do you mean by this and how has your entry into Europe been going?
A At Kirusa, we are finding that European mobile operators are increasingly seeking to open new revenue streams and value chains by leveraging their existing networks, including 2.5G, with exciting and compelling new applications and services. This is, of course, consistent with strains on capital expense being felt throughout the industry.
Multimodality fits exceedingly well in driving towards that goal. By removing frustration from the unimodal subscriber mobile applications experience and opening up new application possibilities, multimodality serves to encourage and build applications usage, generating traffic on the network, and thusly, revenue.
European operators are increasingly recognizing the revenue value of multimodality, and interest is peaking across the continent. Kirusa is responding to the market demand by growing our presence in the region and helping operators leverage this value effectively and quickly.
In North America, we're finding that interest in multimodality is growing, but at a somewhat slower pace than in Europe - at the moment. However, as mobile operators continue to build out their applications and services portfolios, and seek to improve revenue performance and return on investment in 2.5G and 3G networks just as in Europe, we fully expect the North American market to build quickly in 2003. Kirusa will be there to address this market for the North American community and beyond.
Q What can the speech technology developers do to provide you with more assistance in growing this space?
A Effective deployment of multimodality requires an ecosystem of partners together offering a tightly integrated end-to-end solution. Application developers, speech technology developers and platform providers are key to this ecosystem, and can help power the growth of the entire speech and mobile applications industry through working to enhance the multimodal end user experience. We're working with our applications and speech industry partners today on a wide range technology efforts to improve the performance of speech recognition in multimodal and mobile contexts, on integration activities and in business partnerships to serve our mutual customers more effectively. We're looking forward to expanding these efforts with our existing partners and welcome new partners to join the profitable multimodal journey with Kirusa.
At Kirusa, we believe that multimodality is coming into its own, and the results of engagements we have empowered thus far clearly demonstrate that end users appreciate the convenience, ease and power of multimodal user interfaces. We are delighted to be present at the start of what we believe will be a new era in mobile application adoption, and confident that we will be at the forefront in delivering the multimodal technologies required to drive this emerging era.