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August - 2008 - issue > In Conversation
Speech Technology Driving the IVR Market
Vimali Swamy
Friday, August 1, 2008
The emergence of advanced IVR and speech technologies such as automatic speech recognition (ASR), Text to speech (TTS), Web Services Integration, and speaker verification are providing complete automation of customer-centric business processes and is gradually dispelling apprehensions associated with the earlier IVR systems. Driven by these technological advancements, the IVR market has begun to grow steadily. Real Soft entered into this market as early as 2000 and provides solutions to contact centers and enterprises, integrating business processes with the converged communication networks. P.S.

Hariharan, Chief Technology Officer responsible for the technology leadership, business development, and overall delivery management at the Offshore Center of Excellence in India talks to The SmartTechie about his views on the key trends in the fast growing IVR space.

What are the trends in the Voice technology space?
Today, many large enterprises are replacing their first generation systems with upgraded technology such as speech, since many of their initial purchases were made at the time of making Y2K upgrades. This is because IVR and speech technologies offer a proven value proposition and are becoming an integral part of the customer service function. Interacting with a speech-based application simplifies self-service menus, generates higher levels of satisfaction and allows better experience for the customers. Currently I see three main trends in this space:

Developing personalized and dynamic menus:

Sectors like banking usually have a large list of services. An IVR for this means having an endless number of menus to navigate through, and a customer often stops midway due to the long process of getting at his desired service. Hence we have now started to develop personalized and dynamic menus that adapt to user behavior. So now a customer need not go through the traditional menu to complete his or her day-to-day transactions.

IVR goes multilingual: Traditional IVR applications are based predominantly on English, but now these are developed in languages specific to the region. We are currently in talks with a Sri Lanka based company to develop an IVR application that uses Tamil as the main language.
Business automation using IVR: Most IVR applications used to do simple self-service functions but now they are also being used to automate business processes. For example, the manufacturing sector is now using IVR to help dealers place orders or track deliveries and service customers.

What are the challenges going ahead?

Many consumers have faced difficulties in the past due to poorly designed IVR flows, a problem that remains one of the major hurdles to market growth. Service providers will have to proactively help customers design and deploy the technology to overcome such perceptions.

Other challenges include:
Maintaining the trust and credibility with the customers: Many of our customers have come to us after getting a positive feedback from others so it is a great challenge to continue to meet their expectations. Also, on most occasions they demand a solution within a restricted time. This presents challenges of innovative planning and delivery, and customer expectation management, as we do not want to compromise on the quality. Continuous innovation for emerging markets: To survive in the growing market means constantly creating innovative technology. This requires having a sharp vision on client problems and technologies to deliver total end-to-end solutions. Real Soft today is in a position to do this by combining its IVR and Speech expertise with its enterprise technologies experience.

Finding the right people and growing them to deliver quality solutions to the customers.

In the crammed IT services market, what is the unique offering of Real Soft?

We believe in creating long-term relationships with our clients. For this we have developed two different types of engagement models - traditional turnkey projects and dotECO. The traditional engagement model involves delivering customized IT solutions to address the customer’s business challenges and stay focused to deliver the best possible ROI. The dotECO model involves a dedicated offshore team that is extended, controlled, and can be finally owned by the client. In the offshore model, projects fail mainly because of lack of involvement of the client but dotECO is a client-managed offshore team. Under this methodology the offshore team functions as an extension of the client’s in-house software development center. The team works for the client in the areas of application development, product development, R&D, Help Desk, and a number of related services.

We do not restrict ourselves to just delivering applications to our clients. We take a partnership approach in helping our customers move up the value chain by extending their premium offerings and also by helping them to outsource functions that are not part of their core competence. We partner with them as channel partners to sell the applications and also jointly target customers to get new businesses.

What are some of the cutting edge technologies that Real Soft is working in the IVR space?

Avaya voice portal, SOA based host interfaces, speech recognition in multiple languages, text-to-speech, IVR interfaces to tier-1 ERP packages like SAP and Oracle, rules based alerting and workflow, speaker verification, and mobile applications are some of the cutting edge technologies that RSI is working on.

Much is being talked about the market opportunity in the IVR space. How do you plan to penetrate this fast growing market?

IVR is truly a fast growing market. Apart from the products and professional services, we are focusing on packaged applications, which are gaining importance in the speech self-service market due to their ability to significantly reduce the time-to-market and realize deployment efficiencies. They are usually less expensive than customized applications, making them a preferred option for customers looking to deploy simple self-service solutions, such as companies in the small and mid-size enterprises segment. Our other focus is on managed services offerings that enable large clients to completely outsource their contact centers and applications. We are also looking at innovative Opex based pricing models that enhance value and reduce risk for our customers. RSI today is well positioned to create and capture market opportunities and continue to grow aggressively.

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