Q&A: The Future of Speech Technologies

NEW YORK, Aug. 8, 2006 — Today at the annual SpeechTEK East 2006 Conference in New York, Microsoft executives outlined the future of Microsoft Speech Server and how its integration into Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 will advance Microsoft’s unified communications strategy. SpeechTEK is the speech technology industry’s largest event.

PressPass spoke with Anoop Gupta, corporate vice president of the Unified Communications Group at Microsoft, to further discuss today’s announcement.

PressPass: What does today’s announcement mean for Microsoft’s unified communications strategy?

Anoop Gupta, Microsoft Corporate Vice President, Unified Communications Group

Gupta: Today we announced that the full capabilities of Microsoft Speech Server 2007 will ship as an integrated component of Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007, extending our commitment to unified communications and helping to eliminate communications chaos with an approach that integrates all of the ways we contact each other in a single environment, using a single identity that spans phones, PCs and other devices. The addition of our speech platform and integrated APIs for collaboration will help create new and powerful speech-enabled communications scenarios for our customers and industry partners. These new applications can be built on a single, durable infrastructure, which will help simplify operations and reduces costs in addition to enhancing information worker productivity.

PressPass: What speech capabilities will be available in Office Communications Server?

Gupta: The addition of the full Speech Server 2007 feature set will give Office Communications Server 2007 customers – among other things – world-class voice response application authoring and tuning tools within Visual Studio, a set of speech services APIs, and proven telephony technology that today successfully manages millions of phone calls for our customers.

PressPass: Why did Microsoft move the Speech Server capabilities into Office Communications Server?

Gupta: At Microsoft, we believe that software and applications can deliver on the promise of unified communications by bringing together disparate technologies into a unified experience which will drive down the cost and complexity of communicating and collaborating at work. Building on recent announcements related to unified communications, you’ll see that we’re committed to delivering a software-based communications solution that revolves around the person, not the device or the infrastructure. Adding speech capabilities enriches the unified communications experience by providing the ability to bring together contact center IVR infrastructures with a new unified communications paradigm.

PressPass: How will customers benefit from the addition of speech technologies to Office Communications Server 2007?

Gupta: Microsoft has been investing in speech technologies for 10 years and we’re now in a unique position to answer our customer’s demands for a single, unified solution to their communications needs. We can now offer a single platform for multiple communications needs, which means one license to manage, one set of tools to learn, one integrated set of APIs and the opportunity to create multiple, more productive ways for employees or customers to communicate.

The speech and telephony capabilities provided by Speech Server create an even more robust platform for customers to build from – essentially they will be able to manage all of their communication needs from one platform, helping to save money on tools, training and the overall headache of having to manage multiple systems.

PressPass: What communications challenges do organizations face today, and how will the addition of speech technologies into Office Communications Server help solve them?

Gupta: Over time, two infrastructures have evolved within most organizations – telephony and software. That has meant two systems to administer, two systems to operate, two systems to upgrade, and two sets of skills to maintain. In today’s global, 24×7, always-connected, often mobile work environment, people struggle to manage all their communications modes, each with a different address and different messaging system. These silos of communication make it difficult for workers, teams and organizations to communicate and collaborate effectively.

Now, we’re able to use the power of unified communications to break down these silos and give people more control over their communications. Adding Speech Server to Office Communications Server will give our customers the tools to provide seamless access to applications and information from any device, anytime, anywhere. Outlook Voice Access and Unified Messaging in Exchange 2007 serve as powerful examples where integrated speech capabilities will expand access and unify email and voice mail.

PressPass: What opportunities does this announcement create for Microsoft partners?

Gupta: This announcement is perhaps most significant for Microsoft partners. When Office Communications Server 2007 is available, our speech partners will have an entirely new customer base to sell into. Additionally, the integrated APIs will create an opportunity to not only expand existing applications, but also build new unified communications scenarios like those that were shared at the SpeechTEK event. In the meantime, our product group is working hard to ensure that existing partners and customers not only have full support for their solutions, but also a clear migration path to Office Communications Server 2007.

PressPass: What innovations do you see emerging from Office Communications Server Speech Platform Services?

Gupta: There are numerous possibilities but some of the best that we’ve seen include a presence-enabled personal call assistant that queues and routes calls based on an individual’s availability and communications preferences. Another one is voice-based call control which enables you to instantly add more people to a conference call or mute participants with a few simple, spoken commands. But, ultimately, we believe that our partners and customers will innovate on the platform in creative and sometimes surprising ways that we cannot imagine today.

PressPass: How do you use speech at Microsoft today?

Gupta: Speech technology is becoming a bigger part of the technology we use everyday. Last year, we rolled out MS Connect, a Speech Server-based auto attendant that answers every call that comes into Microsoft’s main line. This year, we announced that Exchange Server 2007 would include unified messaging and Outlook Voice Access which has been used by employees for the past several months and is very popular. Speech recognition for desktops is also becoming more prevalent here as we test the new Speech Recognition in Windows Vista. Overall, I expect the uses of speech technologies to keep growing, eventually becoming an important part of most of the products we use everyday.

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