Year of Speech Coming? It’s Already Here

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Trade publications and shows have always been the mine canary of industry change. In the past, we had all manner of voice, data, CTI, and call center shows. There were dozens, including TCA, ICA, Interop, and SpeechTek, followed by Voice Search and VoiceCon. VoiceCon is now Enterprise Connect, SpeechTek and ITExpo have co-located with complementary technology shows, such as SocialCRM and CRM Evolution, and Voice Search is now Mobile Voice. Magazines come and go as well.

Speech technologies have been in and around all of them, but the vague reputation of not being good enough, or just being a novelty, has persisted for most of the past decade. Much has been said and written about when speech would arrive. When will it be the year for speech technologies? It is now 2011, and I think that year has already passed. And that is good news. You see, the issue isn’t whether speech technologies are viable or whether people will use them or accept them; they are, and people do.

The issues that have caused reputation hangover have hinged on two factors: accuracy and revenue. First, all of the headaches the speech industry has suffered—thanks to a focus on IVR developers who still put out mediocre to bad applications—have shifted the debate from what we have done well to what still doesn’t work. Second, a recognizer doesn’t always recognize what a person says. But that can be caused by various factors, including using a speech application in a largely noisy environment. Finally, as an enabling technology that naturally has alternatives, speech deployments during a stretch of bad economic years have made it appear that their use and economic value are not what they should be.

Perhaps people aren’t getting rich off of speech technologies alone. We still have technological hurdles to clear, but what industry doesn’t? Speech recognition and text-to-speech usage in contact center/IVR applications can’t be perfect unless the humans who develop the applications know what they are doing. And many do. But that doesn’t mean the use of speech technologies isn’t pervasive.

There are plenty of mine canaries that indicate speech has arrived. Let’s examine a few of them. As mobility applications started flooding the consumer and business markets, speech technologies have been right there, in voice-activated dialing, dictation, navigation, command and control, voice search, speech-to-text, and multimodal contact center applications.

With mobile applications of all types numbering in the millions, and application downloads in the billions, even if speech-enabled application usage represents just a fraction of those numbers, it means people are accustomed to using speech technologies. If you need more evidence of consumer acceptance, look at the millions of children and teens using speech recognition in their video games.

Then there is the meteoric rise of social media use among consumers and businesses. Social media platforms are rapidly being integrated into customer service applications through unified communications, contact centers, and collaboration applications. From an end-user perspective, consumers can exploit speech to perform such functions as updating their Twitter accounts and posting Facebook statuses on their mobile phones. Consumers can access a social media application using voice. But the use of social media within enterprises also is rapidly rising to improve customer service, and so is the part that speech plays in that.

For example, all of the big players in the unified communications, contact center, and collaboration areas are incorporating social media as a customer channel. From Cisco’s SocialMiner—which mines social media feeds like Twitter and Facebook and routes actionable postings and tweets to the right “agent” to handle them—to Siemens’ OpenScape Social Media Fusion integrations, customer service is poised for rapid change as these interaction channels are introduced. Speech technologies are playing a bigger part, as companies combine text and speech analytics with data analytics to understand what is happening within these channels. They are using that knowledge to improve customer service.

So, the question is not one of when will we experience the year of speech technologies? They already are ubiquitous.

Have any innovative speech news? Nancy Jamison can be reached at nsj@jamisons.com, at www.jamison-consulting.com, or follow her on Twitter @NancyJami.

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