Dan Miller, analyst, Opus Research

Q: You're co-chairing a half-day clinic called "Migrating to the Service Oriented Architecture." Is this a session that a speech technology vendor should attend?
A: I'll register a "definite maybe." In the spirit of the Service Automation Expo, Bryan Mekechuk of Pacific Crest Consulting and I have designed an intensive three hour course for enterprise executives to understand fundamental changes in their IT environments to extend the reach of existing self-service applications and infrastructure to customers and employees using their telephones or wireless handsets. Vendors are certainly welcome (and we think they may learn a lot about the major considerations of targeted customers), but this sessions is definitely for "buyers."

Q: Service-Oriented Architecture smacks of "geekiness." Is this going to be a session for IT managers?
A: Quite the contrary. It's for non-technical business people who want customer service infrastructure to support objectives like improving the customer experience and reaching more, mobile customers. The subtitle, "Leveraging IT Infrastructure to Support Self-Service Business Objectives," says it all. It may sound highfalutin' but I hope it captures our own objective of providing actionable information to customer care executives, as well as the CFOs, CMOs and CTOs who have to engage in project definition and vendor selection.

Q: How does a computing architecture ensure better customer service?
A: Moving to an SOA (the common abbreviation for the "Service-Oriented Architecture) provides the path for both top executives and functional heads to transcend traditional technological barriers in the name of enhancing the customers' experience. There are no guarantees, but the beauty of an SOA is that it extends the reach of legacy IT back-end, World Wide Web and contact center applications over many communications channels.

Over the past few years, corporations have invested billions in self-service Web sites and many have invested millions in programs to convince callers to pay visits to them. Yet their customers have spoken (or should I say e-mailed and double clicked). The unspoken message is that customers will continue to reach companies via multiple channels according to what's most convenient at the time. Regardless of their method of contact, they expect a company to remember who they are (in ways that "cookies" make possible on Web sites and "screen pops" enable with live agents).

Q: Aren't you just describing the "Voice Web" that has been made popular by the likes of Nuance, Tellme and other early supporters of VoiceXML?
A: This is more about "Web services" than the "Voice Web." It is not about "rendering" Web logic as voice, but it is deeply about extending Web services to users of the telephone, email and the Web. Instead of being the domain of speech engines (from the aforementioned Nuance, Scansoft, Loquendo, Telisma or other recognition engines) it is about understanding middleware (from IBM, BEA, Microsoft or purveyors of "open source" middleware like Tomcat) and integrators (like IBM, Accenture, EDS, Siemens Business Systems or others) who can adhere to the architecture to fulfill enterprise requirements.

Q: This still sounds like "Inside Baseball." Can you tell me what's in it for enterprise decision makers?
A: During the three hour "clinic," Bryan and I will start by tackling the terminology surrounding the SOA, reconciling the language surrounding contact center automation with enterprise-wide self service, which quickly expands to the broader category of business process outsourcing (BPO) and globally distributed automation. At the end of the day (meaning the end of the session) Bryan and I will provide practical advice regarding how to define the milestones along the path to an SOA; how to choose the team of decisionmakers to define requirements; and how to develop specifications and issue an RFQ or RFP.

Q: Any other benefits?
A: We are also going to use part of the session to present findings from our first "Future Readiness Survey." Attendees will learn what their counterparts in a cross-section of industries are doing to upgrade their self-service infrastructures including plans to upgrade their IVRs, implement more advanced TTS, speaker verification and ultimately natural language understanding (NLU).

Q: Can you really make generalities about a group of diverse companies moving to a single "architecture"?
A: Much of what we describe deals with the largest companies in their respective verticals. Still, the transformation from siloed, inefficient self-service infrastructure to a more coherent service-oriented architecture is taking place across industries and across business demographics. We believe that understanding the gaps between today's environment and tomorrow's "desired future state" is the key to preparing for a more successful future.

For more information about Dan Miller and OPUS Research go to www.opusresearch.net

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