Nik Philpot, Chief Operating Officer, Eckoh Technologies; and Andy Hill, Head of V-Commerce, British Telecom

Q From the BT perspective, why chose Eckoh?

A Eckoh: I believe we were chosen because of our 10-year history in building voice applications, the quality and size of our call processing platform, the expertise of our technical team and the success we have had in already selling managed speech recognition services to blue chip clients.

BT: We have chosen to work with Eckoh because of the scale of their hosted speech/IVR platform and the immediate and dynamic capability that we can quickly provide to our major business customers. Speed and flexibility are of the essence in the current market and the relationship with Eckoh allows BT to meet the immediate business needs of a wide range of customers. Beyond this we liked the philosophy and approach of Eckoh and have found it easy to work with their team.

Q What does this announcement mean to BT customers?

A Eckoh: It gives them immediate access to a range of pre-built applications, a large hosting infrastructure and a price structure significantly more attractive than a traditional CPE solution.

BT: Our relationship with Eckoh means that BT customers can purchase a hosted speech-based service rather than concern themselves with choosing a specific technology and an appropriate vendor. This is particularly important in an industry where there are still many choices and the technology standards have yet to be finalized. Further, BT's customers would benefit from buying into an infrastructure that allows them to dynamically size the service to meet their business demands. While many of our customers have shown great interest in the business benefits that can be achieved through the use of speech recognition to provide self-service to their clients, few have been prepared to make the investment required to benefit from the technology. Our proposition to the market will allow customers fast access to the benefits of speech recognition with a significantly reduced investment risk.

Q Why did you choose these industries (government, finance, utilities, retail, IT and travel and leisure) to target?

A Eckoh: They are the sectors where BT is strongest and where there is significant potential for these types of applications.

BT: We will be targeting all our Major Business customers. These fall into four business directorates, Finance, Retail brands and Distribution, IT and Media and Government.

Q What makes you think this will be a success?

A Eckoh: The demonstrable cost benefits which leads to an extremely quick ROI.

BT: Speech Recognition has for some time been on the agenda of many of BT's major business customers but the commercial barriers to entry have limited the number of solutions it has deployed. The move into offering a hosted speech solution allows BT to present its customers with a flexible commercial approach to deploying this compelling technology.

Q Has BT had customers asking for these services?

A Eckoh: BT has already deployed these types of solutions, however, they have indicated that their customers are looking for a managed solution with the ability to create test applications that can then be scaled aggressively once proven.

BT: Most business customers are facing increasing demand from their users to offer 24x7 access to service, across a range of channels and that can be accessed while on the move. Coupled with this are the pressures to drive cost from the business while ensuring high standards of customer service are provided to prevent client defection. Our customers share many of these issues and our self-service propositions, including speech recognition, provide an effective solution.

Q Will Eckoh pursue any other arrangements of this sort with other carriers in Europe or other parts of the world?

A Eckoh: The UK is our primary focus right now, however, we would obviously not preclude other arrangements. In terms of European expansion we believe there is an opportunity for terminating calls that originate in mainland Europe on the UK platforms and this is included in the arrangements that have been put in place with BT.

BT: Our focus with Eckoh is the UK and English spoken traffic acquired from Europe.

Q The agreement is for two years, what will be the criteria to extend this agreement beyond the original two years?

A Eckoh: The agreement would be extended based on success that is either the number of customers or the income generated by the customers.

BT: The two-year period is simply the initial agreement term and this would extend provided the base predictions in terms of the number of clients and revenue forecast is met.

Q Whose speech recognition engine is being used in this project? Will the pending sale of Philips Speech division to ScanSoft have any effect on this project?

A Eckoh: We anticipate using the Philips engine as we have the most experience and the greatest installed capacity of this, however, we are independent in our choice of speech recognition software so would not preclude using another vendor. We don't see the pending Philips sale having any material impact as we are positive about the deal as we already use ScanSoft's text-to-speech software and have a good relationship with them.

Q How will BT sell these services to their clients?

A BT: Our prime channel to market is through the network of account managers and sales specialists focused on the Major Business Community. Ultimately this is a value-based proposition that fits within the self-service portfolio and in a fundamental strand of our CRM strategy.

Q What will be the pricing structure for these services?

A BT: It is intended that the pricing structure will provide the flexibility to allow BT to ensure it can meet it's customers business demands in a dynamic market place. The core service will be based around a monthly rental charge along with a usage-based fee.

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