Sidebar: Voice Tools Go Mainstream

Speech and telephony specialists traditionally have built speech recognition systems from complex stand-alone products. But IBM, Microsoft Corp. and others are changing that with speech products based on a broad range of application development and delivery tools.

IBM's Voice Server speech recognition engine, its Voice Application Access middleware (for adding voice portals into enterprise applications) and its Voice Response product (for interfacing with telephone networks) are all part of IBM's WebSphere product line. "The developer of a speech application now has access to the same tooling, application interfaces and databases that the Web programmer has had for several years," says Eugene Cox, director of mobile solutions for IBM pervasive computing. And because the products are based on open standards such as VoiceXML, he says, not all the components of the speech application have to come from IBM. (To learn more about VoiceXML, see QuickStudy at QuickLink 47463.)

Similarly, Microsoft's new SpeechServer products are intended to bring speech technology to companies that lack huge IT budgets or employees with specialized speech or telephony skills. "We have taken standard Web programming techniques and developed tools that integrate into Visual Studio .Net," says James Mastan, director of marketing in Microsoft's SpeechServer product group. "You can add speech to your Web applications and program that the way you would any Web application."

And, he says, unlike many IVR systems that "go into a black box in the closet" and don't integrate with corporate systems, SpeechServer can be integrated and managed just like other Microsoft server products.

Mark Plakias, an analyst at Zelos Group Inc. in San Francisco, says a few companies go directly from live customer service agents to automated speech, but a more logical path is to start by building speech on top of Web applications. "Companies are saying, 'I can do this on the Web -- self-service really works. Now I'll go back and do this on the phone.' So they are trying to make their phone self-service as flexible and maintainable as their Web self-service."

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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