Richard Bray, General Manager, Microsoft Speech Server

Microsoft Speech Server is Microsoft's IVR platform and provides the tools, run-time environment, and core services needed for speech-enabled telephony applications on a single, integrated platform. Speech Server reduces the complexity and cost of building, deploying and maintaining touchtone and speech-enabled applications for customer self-service and outbound notification. More information can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/speech.

Speech Technology Magazine sat down with Rich Bray to discuss the latest Microsoft Speech Server news and the formation of the Unified Communications Group.

Q. Microsoft recently merged the Speech Server, Exchange and Real-time Collaboration (RTC) groups together to create the Unified Communications Group. What was the motivation behind this combination?

A. The merger brings together Microsoft's key assets related to unified communications into a tightly connected team. This will make it easier to ensure we have well-aligned priorities, an integrated R&D platform, and the best partner ecosystem to rapidly deliver innovative unified communications solutions that address key customer pain points and provide the highest business value. This merger also demonstrates Microsoft's commitment to delivering solutions that enable people, teams and organizations to communicate more effectively anywhere, anytime, any place and on any device.

Q. How has this affected your role within Microsoft?

A. On a day-to-day basis, my role hasn't changed. The Speech Server team and I are still focused on delivering Speech Server 2007, as you saw with our recent announcement.  There is a lot of excitement within our group right now about the innovations we're bringing to market.  In the longer term, the creation of the Unified Communications Group means that the Speech Server team will be thinking more about how to improve human communications across a variety of modes with compelling, unified solutions. 

Q. Microsoft also announced the upcoming launch of Microsoft Speech Server 2007, what is going to be different in this version from previous versions and when can customers expect to see this roll out?

A. Microsoft Speech Server 2007 builds on the same principle we started with Speech Server 2004, and that is to provide companies with a high quality, low cost and maintainable speech and telephony platform. With Speech Server 2007, we're introducing more development choices with support for SALT and VoiceXML along with a new Speech Server API; native VoIP support; and business intelligence tools to help contact center managers, business users and administrators understand customer behavior to ensure end users are having a positive and successful experience. We expect Speech Server 2007 to be ready in late 2006.

Q. How can developers get a copy of the beta?

A. Go to our web site at Microsoft.com/speech and apply to participate in the beta.

Q. Why did you decide to support VoiceXML on this version?

A. We talked to our customers and prospects, and several had existing applications and skills in VoiceXML but wanted a cost-effective, integrated platform like Speech Server.  So, we looked at the best way to support these companies, and the end result is Speech Server 2007 with a VoiceXML 2.1 compliant runtime and integrated authoring in Visual Studio 2005.

Q. How will the acquisition of technology assets from Unveil affect the speech server platforms?

A. When we acquired Unveil's technology assets, substantially all of their existing engineering staff joined Microsoft, so we've been integrating many of their innovations into Speech Server.  We look forward to sharing some of the exciting things we've done in the near future.

Q. What does Microsoft Speech Server mean for enterprises?  

A. As an integrated, all-in-one platform, Speech Server provides multiple benefits for enterprises. Financially, companies benefit from the low total cost of ownership and simple licensing models. Technologically, Speech Server offers low application development costs for contact center and line of business solutions with tools that millions of developers are familiar with, a solid roadmap that ties into other Microsoft technologies and easy integration with existing telephony platforms. Additionally, with our strong network of over 70 partners, we can help companies find the best custom or pre-built application for their business, which ultimately helps companies to deploy the solution faster and achieve the maximum return on investment.

Q. Any additional comments?

A. I think this is a great time to be in the speech and telephony industry. Our announcement last week was just the beginning, and I'll have more exciting features to share with you soon. There are so many changes happening right now, and as companies are given more tools and more development flexibility, we're going to see some great uses of voice as it becomes a natural extension of everyday technologies. I'm looking forward to the coming months and to sharing more about how Microsoft is making high-quality voice response solutions attainable.  

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