Stuart Berkowitz, Founder, President & CEO, VoiceGenie

Q You have been a successful entrepreneur in different industries why are you now involved in the speech technology industry?
A The Voice Web industry is attractive to me for so many reasons.

The technology saves companies a lot of money, allowing them to be more successful and to focus on their core products and services. For end-users, self-care is possible without the need for a computer. Phones are the most common communications device…most people have them. With Voice Web technology, people can use the phones they already have to access the Web, perform transactions and service themselves how and when they want, while saving time, even promoting in-vehicle safety. Our industry offers benefits for everyone.

As an entrepreneur I want my company to succeed in a promising marketplace. We envisioned this market over 6 years ago, and worked to position VoiceGenie as an enabling platform. Now, Voice Web technology is ripe for explosion.

Q Describe a successful speech technology implementation and why you thought it was successful. Please include any benchmark statistics that support your thoughts.
A AT&T WorldNet Web Access by Phone is a favourite of mine. It illustrates how pervasive the Voice Web paradigm can be-how people love using their voices to access email and Web based resources.

There are other deployments that I deem highly successful, and most of those do not hold "sex appeal", but really deliver practical results. For example, a government services Voice Web deployment that allows people to book appointments for building permits and access documents and so on, by simply speaking into their phones. This may sound boring, but it is a successful deployment that saves people time and saves the government a lot of money. That's why this industry is on the verge of a tornado-it solves so many problems, and causes less disruption of existing IT infrastructures than you'd think. Because we are standards-based, enterprises and service providers love the ease of integration and low cost development and maintenance. I can't say enough about that.

Q Describe a few surprises that you have witnessed when implementing a speech application for an enterprise.
A I'm often pleasantly surprised at how quickly non-programmers are able to write VoiceXML applications. To illustrate, we hosted a competition with a $10K prize for the best VoiceXML application. We were surprised, and delighted, when our selected winner showed up: a 17 year old student developed a Voice Web version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. He taught himself VoiceXML over the course of a weekend.

One of the most surprising occurrences when implementing speech applications in enterprise environments is the ease of integration. Many technologies claim to offer seamless and easy integration, but most do not deliver. With open standards Voice Web technology, integration truly is simplified; we have integrated our platform with a number of CTI systems in mission critical call center environments. When customers report back that their Voice Web projects are live and they are already realizing the advantages, I'm thrilled.

Q What vertical markets have you seen the highest penetration of speech applications?
A Many vertical markets are embracing Voice Web technology today. In particular, financial, utilities, pharmaceutical & healthcare, and government are adopting speech to automate their services and Web-based customer care. We are also seeing horizontal markets such as carriers/service providers and wireless providers deploying Voice Web technology in earnest. Call centers of every kind are either testing or deploying voice technology right now. In fact, I cannot think of an industry that is NOT a candidate for speech technology.

Q Where do you think the speech technology industry is heading over the next few years?
A My favorite topic…let me be the genie for a few minutes.

I see the future like this: Most communications devices are connected to the Internet through easy to use speech interfaces. Multimodal is alive and well, so that information and transactions are accessible via whatever device you choose over whatever means you prefer. The Voice Web is now so pervasive, it is assumed. Even appliances and devices in your home provide speech interfaces to the Internet. Because these kinds of applications demand large vocabularies, server-based Voice Web implementations are necessary.

Q If you were CEO of a speech technology developer such as SpeechWorks what would keep you up at night?
A Seriously, if I were CEO of a speech developer like SpeechWorks, I would probably be kept awake by the excitement of going into work the next morning…how to make the world a better place with better speech activation. I'd also perhaps be thinking about how to supercede my competitors so that more VoiceGenie platforms are shipping with my ASR and TTS rather than theirs. I'd be thinking of ways to increase demand for my flavor of speech…and creating more and more flavors to appeal to more and more people.

Q What keeps Stuart Berkowitz up at night?
A Besides waiting up for my teenage daughters?

Lots of things. I think incessantly about whether we are delivering enough value to our customers, and I try to dream up ways to better serve them, to make their lives easier and better. I think about our goal to quadruple the size of the market in the next three years, and whether we are doing all the right things to get us there. I think about whether we are training enough sales people to answer market demand…to handle the volume of interest being generated. I think about how to best manage explosive growth and how to deliver exactly what our customer are asking for. I think of new ways to keep competitors on their toes.

Q What should the industry as a whole be doing to increase the growth rate of speech technology deployments?
A The industry needs to offer more complete solutions. There needs to be more partnering in the industry. We need to make applications easier to use and promote a marketplace of specialized off-the-shelf applications. We need to keep training more people in speech technology ergonomics. And we need more testing and development tools.

We also need to publicize more customer deployments. They are happening right now, and I think we need to get these customers to share their successes with the rest of the world.

Q What do you want to achieve from VoiceGenie's participation in SpeechWorks Global Speech Day?
A We want to use Global Speech Day as a platform to help our customers understand how to use speech technology in their businesses. We want to bring more people into the market. And of course, we want to encourage more people to buy VoiceGenie products.

Q What are your goals for VoiceGenie over the next five years?
A Simple. Our goal is to become a $100 million company - the premier standards-based voice activated platform of choice for the largest brand names in the business. And we will do it.

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