Laurent Philonenko, Vice President and General Manager, Cisco System's customer contact business unit.

Cisco Systems, Inc. is a provider of networking for the Internet. Cisco was founded in 1984 by a small group of computer scientists from Stanford University. Since the company's inception, Cisco engineers have been developing Internet Protocol (IP)-based networking technologies. The company is creating a communications platform that will serve as the basis for the convergence of data, voice, video and mobile communications in an integrated architecture.

Speech Technology Magazine sat down with Laurent Philonenko, vice president and general manager of Cisco's customer contact business unit, to discuss the company's acquisition of Audium and its newly combined offerings.

Q. Cisco recently announced its acquisition of Audium; what does this acquisition entail?

A.  Cisco has been working with Audium for the last 3 years, using its technology under an OEM relationship.  With the acquisition, Cisco gained Audium's valuable technology and intellectual property along with an experienced team in speech applications platforms.  Over time, Audium's application and run-time environment for VoiceXML will be extended throughout Cisco's portfolio of Unified Communications solutions.

Q. Why did Cisco decide to buy an application development partner?

A.  Cisco has been very successful in helping our customers reap tremendous infrastructure and operating cost savings through a converged IP voice and data network.  Speech self-service, in particular, can help reduce organizations' contact center budgets, but to be used strategically for improving service levels it must be integrated with the enterprise application infrastructure. Audium's software allows self-service applications to be tailored and personalized based on enterprise customer data and business rules, which means customers can build more intelligent, relevant speech applications.  The Audium acquisition will enhance our ability to enable customers to deploy their speech self-service applications as part of the Cisco Service-Oriented Network Architecture, thus integrating IP contact center technology with the enterprise's service-oriented architecture.

Q. What does this mean for Cisco and Audium customers?

A.  Customers will have no disruption in service, as all existing contracts will be maintained, and all customers and channels will continue to be supported by Cisco.  Moving forward, all Audium functionality, which enables highly customized and highly scalable speech self-service applications on multiple platforms, will be available through the Cisco Unified Contact Center offering.  Cisco and Audium customers now have a single platform solution for their self-service needs that is "open by choice."  Customers can use the new solution to extend SOA to the contact center on their own terms with less implementation and migration risk.

Q. What impact will this combined offering have on the way companies implement speech self-service?

A.  The Unified Communications system allows companies to integrate their communications systems with their IT infrastructure, streamlining business processes and enhancing productivity.  The acquisition of Audium builds on this promise by allowing our customers and partners to create and use value-enhancing communications applications in an easy, scalable, flexible and highly-customizable fashion.  Audium enhances the Cisco Service-Oriented Network Architecture by integrating a customer's IP contact center infrastructure directly into their enterprise's service-oriented architecture application infrastructure, allowing the use of corporate data, policy and business process workflow in unified contact center applications.  The combined offering will allow customers to roll out more intelligent, enterprise-aware self-service applications that ultimately drive customer satisfaction higher.

Q. What is Cisco's vision for speech self-service?

A.  In the not-so-distant future, companies will have a changed perception of the contact center.  Rather than being an isolated division with separate, proprietary technology, the contact center will be an integrated part of the enterprise architecture.  This will be largely driven by the increasing adoption of speech self-service and its inherent ability to share information across voice and data platforms.  Speech self-service will be a function of the network, one which has knowledge of enterprise-wide customer data and business rules, to enable intelligent application decisions and deliver personalized information to callers.  With the Cisco Unified Contact Center and Customer Voice Portal, speech self-service will enable companies to develop a service-oriented architecture not only for internal purposes but also for customer needs as well.

Q. Why should an organization, which has not already done so, deploy speech?

A.  Speech self-service provides all the cost-savings of traditional IVRs, but adds a level of quality and access for customer service that helps companies gain a competitive edge.  By integrating Web-based and enterprise applications with customer facing speech applications, customers are able to quickly and easily find information and answers to their questions.  This both saves time agents spend on the phone with customers and makes customers feel they have control over how they do business with a company.  It's a win-win situation.

Q. Please tell us a little about one of your latest customer deployments.

A. We have Customer Voice Portal deployments in healthcare, retail, financial services and manufacturing organizations, among other industries.  One recent deployment that stands out is a global distribution company which leveraged the Customer Voice Portal to create a Spanish language option for their customers.  This company used Customer Voice Portal to create applications that allow customers to schedule and track package delivery, determine shipping rates, order supplies and find drop-off locations.

By implementing a solution that works with their enterprise application systems, the company's speech self-service applications share information across the enterprise.  And because the self-service application resides in the unified Web application layer, the company extended their service-oriented architecture directly to customers.  The deployment was so successful with Spanish speaking customers in the U.S., Mexico and South America that the company plans to extend their deployment globally and add additional language support over time.

Q. Is there anything that you would like to add?

A.  We are tremendously excited about our acquisition of Audium and the positive impact it will have for our customers and their end-user customers.  The technology and technical talent gained will reinforce Cisco's leadership in Unified Communications and enable us to continue driving innovation for both speech self-service and service-oriented network architecture.

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