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Early adopters report benefits with new Microsoft Speech Server

They see significant benefits from the technology in the years ahead

By Carol Sliwa
March 29, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - SAN FRANCISCO -- Seeking to push voice recognition technology into the mainstream, Microsoft Corp. last week pointed to encouraging signs as it launched its Speech Server 2004 software here.
Early adopters that have worked with consultants using beta versions of Microsoft's maiden product either have gone live with applications that can recognize speech responses or will soon move beyond the pilot phase. They said their experiences so far indicate that they will see significant benefits down the road.
Seattle-based Grange Insurance Group predicted a 15% annual return through a reduction in the number of calls its customer service representatives handle once its 150,000 policyholders get the chance to use the new system. The company is currently piloting a speech-enabled application that lets 750 policyholders check billing information over the telephone by recognizing their responses to questions. Grange is also letting mortgage companies access additional policy information.
CIO Ralph Carlile said Grange had planned to make the information accessible through Web-based applications. He said that once he learned that his company could reuse the development work to make the information accessible through the telephone by speech-enabling the applications, he jumped at the chance to participate in Microsoft's joint development program for Speech Server.
"A lot of policyholders don't have Internet access or fast Internet access. A lot are older people who are not comfortable doing anything on the Web, but they are very comfortable on the telephone. This is almost a no-brainer for us in terms of a third channel for doing business with our policyholders," he said. The company plans to extend the system to enable payments to be made via the Web or telephone.
Grange worked with Tata Consulting Services Inc. on its initial application, although Carlile said his company's in-house developers will be able to do 50% to 60% of the work on the new project, which he estimates will take two months. "Once the infrastructure's there, doing development for subsequent applications and solutions is actually quite rapid," he said.
The rationale for adopting Speech Server was similar for the Southwest Alabama Integrated Criminal Justice System. SAICS used Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net development tools to build applications that provide Web browser-based access to driver's license, Social Security, license plate and other information. Since police officers on bicycles and patrol boats don't always have access to computers, the prospect of getting information through voice inquiries on cell phones was appealing to Jim Pritchett, executive director of Foley, Ala.-based SAICS.
"Since our original system was all based on Microsoft .Net technology, our query engine was already there.



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