Microsoft Brings Speech Technology Business Value to the Retail Industry

NEW YORK CITY, Jan. 17, 2005 — At the National Retail Federation Annual Convention and EXPO in New York City today, Microsoft Corp. demonstrated the investments it has made over the past year to bring the benefits of speech technologies to the world’s retail organizations. With Microsoft
Speech Server 2004, retailers can leverage existing IT investments to solve real-world business problems in the area of customer-facing experience and internal operations — whether creating a seamless and personalized shopping experience or improving business operations such as seamless connections to suppliers, enhanced customer service offerings, or in-store point of sale systems.

Microsoft’s goal with Microsoft Speech Server 2004, part of the Windows Server System (TM) family of products, is to help retailers lower costs, increase employee productivity, introduce new services and improve customer satisfaction. A wide range of industry-leading retail enterprises such as Talbots ( ) are generating significant competitive advantage by deploying business applications built using Microsoft Speech Server 2004 . The product enables retail organizations to economically accrue the business value of speech technology with lowest total cost of ownership. Just last week, Frost & Sullivan Inc. presented Microsoft with the 2005 Enterprise Infrastructure Product of the Year Award at its Excellence in Information & Communications Technologies Awards Banquet for Microsoft Speech Server 2004.

“Microsoft is committed to helping retailers achieve their business goals through software,” said James Mastan, director of marketing for the Speech Server product group at Microsoft. “We believe speech technologies will be a crucial component in enabling retail organizations to introduce new innovations into the consumer shopping experience, and in improving efficiency throughout the value chain.”

Complementing the Microsoft offering, many partners are working with Microsoft to provide added functionality and features specifically designed to meet the needs of retail organizations. One key application designed for retail organizations is password reset, an often tedious and time-consuming function for IT staff. Microsoft partners Gold Systems, Softel Ltd. and Intervoice Inc. are using the Microsoft Speech Server 2004 platform to provide voice-driven solutions that enable users to reset their password or personal identification numbers over the phone.

“With Gold Systems’ Password Reset, both local and remote users can quickly and easily reset passwords with a simple phone call,” said Steve Stolt, director of product management at Gold Systems. “Password Reset runs on Microsoft Speech Server 2004 and supports integration with Active Directory®
and other data sources.”

“Intervoice works side-by-side with many of the larger, well-known retailers, around the world in developing applications tailored to meet specific needs,” said Michael Segura, director of Microsoft Products and Strategy at Intervoice Inc. “Password reset is just one of the many examples of how we are enabling smarter retailing through Microsoft Speech Server 2004.”

Password reset can comprise up to 40 percent of calls into a retailer’s IT help desk. Reducing this call volume by handling password reset significantly lowers IT operational costs, enabling users to get their passwords reset immediately via the telephone, and frees up IT staff to focus on higher value-added projects and priorities in their organizations.

Many retailers are also looking to speech technologies and Microsoft Speech Server 2004 to simplify and enhance their call center infrastructure and reduce operating costs by offloading potentially time-consuming, low-value calls to an automated speech system. As with the IT organizations, the retail call center agents that focused on providing customer service via the telephone are freed to focus on more complex customer inquiries, and attend to high-value customers to drive customer satisfaction and increased revenue. As retailers deploy Microsoft Speech Server-based solutions to enable reduced costs in their call centers, Microsoft is doing the same inside its own walls.

Microsoft wanted to improve first-try recognition rates over the existing third-party speech recognition system originally deployed in its corporate call center to reduce live operator expenses and achieve easier maintenance. Using in-house expertise, Microsoft developed and deployed MS Connect, a powerful new auto-attendant solution built on top of the Microsoft .NET Framework utilizing Microsoft Speech Server 2004. MS Connect produced a 75 percent first-time name recognition rate and a 50 percent reduction in live operator overhead — a savings of more than $275,000 (U.S.) annually.

In addition to password reset and call center applications, many industry partners such as Gold Systems, Softel Ltd. and Intervoice Inc. provide applications for retail organizations that are designed to improve the customer experience such as customer self-service, in-store product locators, branch location, ordering and order status/tracking, surveys, rebates, account inquiries, and outbound calls for customer notifications among many others. Since inauguration of the Microsoft Speech Partner Program in July 2003, and the official launch of the product in March 2004, more than 60 companies have joined and are actively participating in developing Microsoft Speech Server-based applications.

Speech Server 2004 Recognized as Industry-Leading Solution

In a sign of enterprise confidence in Microsoft Speech Server 2004, Frost & Sullivan recently presented Microsoft with the 2005 Enterprise Infrastructure Product of the Year Award at its Excellence in Information & Communications Technologies Awards Banquet held the second week of January 2005 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Each year Frost & Sullivan presents this award to the company that has demonstrated excellence in new products and technologies within their industry.

“The Microsoft Speech Server 2004 launch has been recognized by the entire speech industry as one of the most significant events of the year,” said Elka Popova, industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “This is a tremendous recognition given the strong competition and highly innovative spirit in this emerging market.”

Microsoft Speech Server 2004 is an integrated, flexible and cost-effective speech platform available for large-scale enterprises as well as midsize retail organizations interested in reaping the significant business value of speech technology. Microsoft Speech Server 2004 is available in Standard and Enterprise editions, enabling partners and customers to flexibly build and deploy applications that meet their business needs. Microsoft Speech Server 2004 provides the following:

  • An integrated platform containing an enterprise-grade speech-recognition engine, telephony platform, voice browser and text-to-speech engine

  • Tools, including speech development tools integrated into Visual Studio®
    .NET 2003 for application design, coding, debugging and tuning

  • Application support for dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF), speech + DTMF, and multimodal (mixed speech and visual) applications

  • Scalability to provide unlimited scale and load balancing across and within nodes

  • Manageability, including an integrated Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in, Windows®
    Management Instrumentation (WMI), performance and event monitoring, and an application deployment wizard

  • Reliable, fault-tolerant architecture, fail-over support and call isolation

  • Security designed for secure network communication, application execution and services execution

  • Infrastructure integration supporting Computer Telephone Integration (CTI) and private branch exchange (PBX) integration for telephony networks, as well as ASP.NET and Windows Server (TM) 2003 integration

  • Reporting features, including a detailed reporting tool for business analysis and technical application tuning analysis

Evaluate Speech Server 2004

For retailers interested in learning more about Speech Server and evaluating the product, a free Retail Evaluation Kit is available at . Additional information on Microsoft Speech Server customer applications and case studies can be found at .

About Windows Server System

Microsoft Windows Server System is an integrated and interoperable server infrastructure that reduces IT complexity to enable IT professionals to deliver innovative solutions that meet the changing needs of business. With Windows Server 2003 at the foundation, Windows Server System is engineered from the ground up for XML Web services based on Microsoft .NET technologies to connect information, people, systems and devices. Based on a common software architecture that spans all facets of IT from design, development and deployment through ongoing management and usage, Windows Server System provides comprehensive IT infrastructure for operations (security, systems management, networked storage), applications (data management and analysis, e-business), and information work (messaging, communications and collaboration). More information on Microsoft Windows Server System can be found at .

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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