A familiar voice Featured

6:49am EDT November 20, 2003
Have you ever asked yourself, "How did I ever do business without cell phones or e-mail?"

Now, another technology -- speech-enabled technology, commonly known as voice recognition -- has exploded into mainstream corporate America, and it will make you ask the same question.

Speech-enabled technology has improved significantly in the last few years. Previously, it was considered a business solution only utilized by large enterprises. Today, however, it is extremely popular among small to mid-sized firms.

In its simplest form, speech-enabled technology listens and reacts to human voices. The system recognizes the voice, translates commands from the individual into a computer system and responds based on the information it has received.

It also provides significant other features in real-time, such as:

* Auto-attendant answers, screens and transfers calls instantly.

* Takes voice mail messages, automatically returning, copying or forwarding calls based on name recognition.

* Finds people at any location with a "follow-me" feature.

* Automatically dials when a user identifies the person.

* Voice activates users' e-mail systems, enabling them to listen, compose and send, and copy or forward emails; create e-mail replies to individuals or large groups; and send voice mail messages into a user's e-mail in-box.

Speech-enabled technology provides the freedom to communicate and conduct business from any location -- in a car, at home, across the country or around the world. Because of that, it has seen -- and anticipates further -- rapid growth. Allied Business Intelligence (ABI) projects the market will increase from $677 million in 2002 to $5.3 billion by 2008.

A few distinct factors are driving the growth.

First is the mobile work force, as more and more people conduct business on the road. The average American rush-hour driver wastes 51 hours sitting in traffic each year. This time could be used in a more productive manner, such as responding to e-mail.

Second, many states are considering banning the use of handheld cell phones, so drivers will need to communicate hands free. This law has passed in New York, and California is close to mandating it as well.

Finally, a report by Gartner found that when comparing speech recognition versus touch-tone, respondents favored speech recognition by a factor of 6 to 1. To adapt to these environmental changes, companies and their employees have rushed to adopt speech-enabled technology.

As the cost comes down, companies are finding that speech-enabled technology is giving them a competitive advantage and increasing their profitability. Here are some ways businesses in every industry are implementing this technology to increase employee productivity:

* Mobile work forces (e.g. sales teams) can function as if they were in the office.

* Patients of medical and dental facilities are scheduling their own appointments.

* Restaurant customers are placing their own orders.

* Companies with call centers are replacing their touch-tone IVRs.

Another perfect example, which can be applied to almost any industry, exists in real estate firms. Real estate agents are out of the office 50 percent to 75 percent of the day and do not have access to e-mail, fax or voice mail unless they call in. But customers want to be connected to them without delay, especially in today's hectic real estate market.

Therefore, agents have tapped into speech-enabled technology to minimize phone tag, access e-mail via voice recognition from any location, connect to clients and reduce costs by not having to staff additional employees for administrative tasks.

Speech-enabled technology has become a real solution to the way business professionals communicate and manage their daily activities. They are seeing the value and flexibility voice recognition can bring, and will be reaping its benefits well into the future.

Randy Wear (rwear@dspi.com) is president of Decision Systems Plus Inc., a member of the Technology Assurance Group (TAG). It provides voice, data, and convergence solutions that are based on integrated, open systems that work with a variety of organizational and technology environments and structures. Reach him at (847)699-9960.