IBM and NewportWorks Launch Speech-enabled Real Estate Solution
Recently IBM and NewportWorks launched a speech-enabled solution intended to help increase the productivity of real estate agents in the field. In a Q&A with the editors of Speech Technology Magazine, Ken Stockman, CEO, NewportWorks, and Sunil Soares, director of product management, IBM Pervasive Computing, speak in detail about this solution and give us insight into the need for such a service. Q Tell us a little about NewportWorks. A Based in Irvine, California, NewportWorks Inc. produces proprietary software and supporting services to allow mobile real estate professionals immediate access to client, company and industry information from mobile phones and other portable devices regardless of time, location or data source. The company’s flagship product line, AnytimeMLS, includes integrated, wireless solutions for residential real estate agents designed to increase the productivity of mobile workforces. QFrom an agent’s perspective, how does this system work? AFrom an agent’s perspective, the most attractive feature is anytime, anyplace access to the repository of properties on the market known as the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), over any phone (mobile or landline). Agents initially log on to the Internet, go to www.newportworks.com, log into the secured area and enter their alert parameters. When agents receive an update, they can listen to details using voice commands such as "email" or "page". QHow many agencies/agents are currently using the system? AThere are over 120 paying customers currently using the system. QWhy is this service important to an agent? ATraditionally, real estate agents spend much of their time in the field, showing properties and trying to close sales. This field time often limits agent productivity due to trips back and forth to the office to check e-mail and listing updates. Now, by utilizing AnyTimeMLS, powered by IBM’s WebSphere Voice Server, real estate agents can access information via speech through direct wireless access to MLS information. And, since agents can instruct the system to send information via e-mail directly to the client, trips back and forth to the office are significantly decreased. Using the system, real estate agents estimate that they could close an additional three to five properties annually, increasing potential earnings substantially. Newport Works also plans to roll out wireless access to title information as well as provide personal contact management tools in upcoming releases of AnyTimeMLS, making the system even more efficient for real estate agents. QWhat information is provided to the agent when they use this system? AThe service lets real estate agents use speech to access information in local MLS databases. The system also alerts agents when new listings that match specific search descriptions become available, giving them current and accurate information on newly available property without making a trip back to the office. QWhat is the pricing structure for these services? Is it a hosted application? AAgents are billed a monthly fee of $29.95 for up to 40 unlimited-time contacts to the system. For 40-60 contacts, the monthly fee is $39.95, and for unlimited use of AnytimeMLS, the cost per month is $49.95. So yes, the application is hosted. QCan a real estate buyer/seller use the service? AThe service is for licensed real estate agents only at this point. QWhat area of the US is the service available? AThe service is available from North San Diego County to South Los Angeles County. NewportWorks is currently in discussions with San Diego, the Inland Valley, Los Angeles and San Francisco to extend the service area. QWhy did you develop the application using Java? ABy leveraging open standards with Java and VoiceXML, the system is much more flexible and amenable to customization. Additionally, IBM’s WebSphere Voice Server, which uses Java, powers the application, which enables developers to quickly develop and deploy voice-enabled e-business solutions by allowing companies to leverage their existing Web infrastructures for the delivery of voice-enabled Internet applications to wired and wireless devices. Java also provides an excellent base for writing secure applications, which further ensures the integrity of the information contained within the database. QHow difficult has it been for agents to use the system? Have you had to provide specialize training? AThe system was designed to be VERY easy to use. NewportWorks did build contextual help into the system but have had almost no customer service challenges. QDoes IBM have clients using voice technology in a similar fashion within other vertical markets? If so, please describe. ANo, there are no other clients in other vertical marketing using voice technology in a similar fashion.