Q&A: Microsoft Speech Server’s Growing Adoption in the Enterprise

SAN FRANCISCO, June 25, 2006 – At its Unified Communications Group Disclosure Day, being held Monday at San Francisco’s Masonic Center, Microsoft is sharing its vision for making unified communications more personal and simpler by uniting such communications elements as e-mail, instant messaging, voice and Web conferencing onto a single, intelligent platform. One of the keys to bringing that vision to life is Microsoft Speech Server, Microsoft’s next-generation speech and telephony interactive voice response (IVR) platform, developed to help contact centers and businesses extend applications to the telephone.

Rich Bray, General Manager, Microsoft Speech Server

To learn more about how enterprises are using Speech Server today and the role of speech-based technology in the overall unified communications vision and strategy, PressPass spoke with Rich Bray, general manager, Microsoft Speech Server.

PressPass: What role does voice play in Microsoft’s vision for unified communications?

Rich Bray: Microsoft is committed to building and maintaining a strong presence in the unified communications space, and voice is a key element to realizing this vision. Our work and experience with Speech Server has helped us improve speech recognition and provide guidance to our internal teams about how companies want to use and deploy voice solutions. For example, the upcoming Exchange Server 2007 includes unified messaging that is powered by the Speech Server engine, and our developers worked closely with that team to make the technology a reality. This is a great example of the things to come from Microsoft in this space and how voice will expand the functionality of products we know and use today.

Additionally, as a result of Microsoft’s industry-leading investment in research and development, there is a range of products and services available to businesses that want to improve efficiencies while, at the same time, also provide their customers with a more seamless and convenient experience with their automated call centers. Put simply, our vision is to tie together all the different elements – products, solutions, and systems – that provide the foundation for a hassle-free, convenient, and efficient customer experience. The way we plan to deliver that experience is to provide a platform that can be easily customized by developers to meet the unique needs of businesses that rely on Microsoft products and services to extend their applications.

PressPass: What value does Microsoft Speech Server provide companies?

Bray: Speech Server is being adopted by companies as an affordable, long-term solution to address mission critical business activities such as improving customer service and increasing employee productivity. As an integrated platform, Speech Server reduces the amount of time and resources needed to maintain an IVR, including everything from our simple licensing model to common, efficient administration and maintenance. Additionally, Microsoft brings a robust partner ecosystem to the industry and leverages the investments companies have made in training their IT staff on existing Microsoft tools. This reduces dependency on expensive “speech scientists” to develop, maintain and manage IVR applications. Overall, Speech Server achieves this by simplifying things for our customers on nearly every level – from maintenance and deployment to developing high-quality, user-friendly voice response applications.

PressPass: What’s new in the upcoming Microsoft Speech Server 2007?

Bray: Microsoft Speech Server 2007 builds on the same principle that guided the development of Microsoft Speech Server 2004, which is to provide companies with a high-quality, low-cost, easy-to-maintain speech and telephony platform. With Microsoft Speech Server 2007, we’re introducing more development choices to fit with the skills our customers already have, and we’re adding business intelligence tools that will help contact center managers, business users, and administrators understand customer behavior and application performance to ensure that end users are having a positive and successful experience. These new features have been well-received by the industry and our customers, to the point where our beta is over-subscribed and we still have requests coming in. These new features have been well-received by the industry and we’re now to the point where the beta is over-subscribed.

PressPass: How will Microsoft’s vision of unified communications define the next generation of contact centers?

Bray: Our vision for the next-generation contact centers is one that seamlessly brings together what are currently disparate systems and functions. These include, but are not limited to, communications technologies such as e-mail, instant messaging, and voice response systems. We imagine a service experience where you can communicate through the best medium available at the time – whether that be by phone, e-mail, IM – but you can also easily change modes of communications without having to start all over. By bringing these areas together, customer service will improve, businesses will gain important customer insights, the systems will be easier to manage and maintain, and developers on whom businesses rely for critical customizations will be able to more quickly and affordably build and deploy the applications that companies rely on to deliver quality customer service.

PressPass: How are ISVs working with Microsoft Speech Server?

Bray: Today, Speech Server has a robust partner ecosystem with more than 70 companies supporting our platform with more than 20 certified applications. Our partners have found success with Speech Server in a variety of ways and serve businesses ranging from small family-owned manufacturers to Fortune 500 companies. As we move forward with Speech Server, our ISV community is growing and becoming still more diverse.

PressPass: How are businesses currently using Microsoft Speech Server?

Bray: Businesses are realizing tremendous value as a result of deploying Microsoft Speech Server. It is thrilling to think that after two years on the market, Speech Server systems are answering millions of calls for many of our customers every month. We are getting great feedback from customers who have deployed the server in their contact centers. For example, Cross County Automotive Group, the leading provider of integrated vehicle and driver programs in North America, is using Speech Server to recover lost revenue and reduced margins through a voice-enabled payments system. Further, by upgrading from a proprietary IVR system, Cross Country is integrating voice with existing web services, streamling overall IT operations. TALX Corporation, the leading provider of employment verification services, uses Speech Server to tie together Web and IVR applications so that they run on the same application servers. They find the scalability of Web farm architecture very appealing and are currently using processing about a half a million calls a month on Speech Server. By using Speech Server, TALX has been able to successfully share business logic between the Web and IVR applications. Other Speech Server customers include GEICO, GTECH, Landstar Systems, Talbot’s and Woodforest Bank.

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