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VoiceCon Speech and Voice Mail

At VoiceCon Orlando I moderated a panel session entitled "The Future of Voice Messaging." The panelists were:* Andy Allison, Sr. Product Manager Unified Communication & Messaging, Avaya * Tom Minifie, Chief Technology Officer, AVST * Bud Walder, Enterprise Marketing Manager, Dialogic * Brad Herrington, Senior Manager of Solutions Marketing, Interactive Intelligence * Roger Brassard, Product Manager, Nortel

Is speech a separate solution? Separate from what?

AVST: In the context of Unified Communications, speech is really a user or caller interface, rather than a solution in and of itself. It is most commonly used as a user interface in 3 applications--automated attendant or directory dialing, personal assistant (management of messages, contacts, calendar, and calls), and custom applications like IVR. The speech user interface benefits the user that demands hands free/eyes free control like when driving. It also benefits the outside caller by being able to interact with the system without having to enter names or data using buttons on phones. It is common for the speech-based applications to be delivered on a dedicated server, rather than within the voice mail server. That is not always the case though. For example, our recently announced product CallXpress 8, supports speech based automated attendant and personal assistant within the core system.

Avaya: Speech as a technology is embedded in many of the voice messaging solutions today. Text-To-Speech (TTS) is a prime example of this. This provides simple application value when reading names and telephone numbers, but can also go further to read your email. Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) takes the user experience to the next level by providing users speech commands versus just DTMF. Sometimes this is embedded with basic speech functionality such as addressing a message or deleting your voicemail. More often, speech systems are deployed separately that act as a personal assistant to provide access to voicemail, email, calendars, tasks, contacts, corporate dialing, and ad hoc conferencing. This type of solution used to be a charged-for item, but now it's become more of an entitlement with the unified messaging solution (such as Avaya).

Dialogic: We see UM vendors shipping integrated speech technology, both text to speech and ASR (auto speech recognition), for front-end IVR / Auto-Attendant navigation, and for mobile hands-free message store access. Others provide it as an option with a separate speech server (recognition engine).

Interactive Intelligence: No, it's part of the total solution. It can be licensed separately to better align with when an enterprise wants to start using speech, but it's no longer a bolt-on part of the infrastructure.

Nortel: Speech (as in "Speech Activated Messaging") is a key component of Unified Messaging, allowing the subscriber to use voice-commands to drive messaging sessions rather than DTMF. It, along with access to messages from PDAs, browsers, or e-mail, is key to ensuring users stay connected and can use the vehicle of their choice. Speech should be an inherent capability within any UM/UC solution, preferably without requiring additional servers/complexity. For example, CallPilot offers voice, fax, and speech all within the same additional hardware required as well as personalized "tuning" of the recognition engine such that each user receives the absolute best recognition from the environments they'll use it in, all with same-call fallback to DTMF for extremely noisy environments.

What is "speech" as above vs. speech auto attendants? Avaya: Speech auto attendants simply take a portion of the internal productivity tool (that already provides internal corporate dialing), to be available to the outside world to call into the company. Sometimes a basic version of this is available with the voicemail solution, but more advanced solutions are available separately, or even incorporated into a larger IVR offering to deliver against a customer interaction strategy.

AVST: I think the same answer as above applies here. In the context of UC, Speech is really a user or caller interface, rather than a solution in and of itself. It is most commonly used as a user interface in 3 applications--automated attendant or directory dialing, personal assistant (management of messages, contacts, calendar, and calls), and custom applications like IVR.

Dialogic: Speech covers both the front-end (auto attendant/IVR) and the backend (message retrieval). The latter is often expanded to a full 'personal assistant' function, which can read and reply to e-mails, schedule appointments and place calls from contact databases.

Interactive Intelligence: Speech auto attendants are typically customer-facing applications such as self help IVRs or Call Center front ends, which can be implemented separately from speech for UM, used by employees for everything from managing their mailbox to setting their presence.

Nortel: Speech Activated Messaging is a subscriber/user session wherein the user performs messaging functions using spoken commands versus DTMF. Speech auto-attendant is a large-vocabulary/speaker-independent function that allows callers to name-dial/address subscribers (or departments) using voice recognition versus DTMF selections.

Is voicemail becoming a commodity or will users pay for the advanced features like calendar, find me, speech, etc? Avaya: I believe that voicemail as a basic functionality is becoming commoditized and is starting to become a feature of other applications such as telephony. However, a more advanced messaging solution, such as unified messaging, will continue to be a pay-for feature, and speech access and other advanced features will be part of that offering. Since Unified Messaging is really a function within Unified Communications, more advanced features and better user interactions will become part of the overall UC offering, and less specific to the messaging platform.

AVST: We don't see companies license and deploy the advanced features for all employees. Rather, they invest in these for those employees that are mobile, produce revenue, and interface with customers. Employees that depend on voice communications to perform their jobs well will greatly benefit from these advanced applications like unified messaging, find me, personal assistant, and hands-free access. Therefore, although not for every employee, they are critical for many, and you should only have to license for those users that will actually use and benefit from these capabilities.

Dialogic: Basic voicemail is a commodity, particularly in lower density systems where it is often integrated with the PBX. Full featured UM, including speech technology is the premium solution, differentiated by vendor, and capable of delivering new productivity gains to boost ROI. We even see some vendors adding audio conference bridges to their messaging platforms leverage the media and signaling infrastructure investment and deliver additional ROI by moving to an unattended audio conference capability in-house.

Interactive Intelligence: Voicemail was a commodity, but as more and more enterprise PBXs include voice messaging as a standard part of the offering, it's transitioning to more of a just a line item feature on a total UC solution. And at that point, calendar, find me, and other features are simply add-ons to the different levels of users in an organization.

Nortel: Voicemail is table-stakes for almost every Enterprise. What is becoming a commodity or requirement of voicemail/UM are the advanced features. In years past, simply answering a call and recording a message was acceptable, but in present days customers require their UM/UC system to offer them the advanced capabilities that keep them connected/productive while also saving them time and money.

Thanks to Andy, Tom, Bud, Brad, and Roger for responding to the audience questions. If you have any more questions about the future of voice messaging, send me an email at [email protected] were a few questions we didn't get to answer, so I asked the panelists to send me their responses.