SpeechTEK 2009:This year's closing keynote panel examines speech solutions delivered via the software-as-a-service model.
Early in the session, Nancy Jamison, a market analyst for Jamison Consulting, asked panelists to define what made the hosted model unique.
RJ Auburn, chief technology officer for Voxeo, said that one of the big advantages of managed services and SaaS is the ability to provide redundancy — even in a hybrid or on-premises implementation. He cited as an example a contact center that handles its typical call volume via on-premises ports, but rents extra ports from a vendor to handle seasonal spikes in trafiic. The contact center can use its own ports the rest of the year, possibly saving some money without sacrificing the control provided by the on-premises option.
SaaS models also allow enterprises to leverage technologies that might be too complex and/or too expensive to implement themselves. Paul Watson, general manager of multichannel and self-care solutions for Convergys, pointed specifically to speaker verification as one such example. Installed as an on-premises technology, Watson argued, voice biometrics can require prohibitive capital investment for licensing, infrastructure, and training; not only does the SaaS model address those concerns, he said, but it makes the technology more manageable and quicker to implement.
Jamie Bertasi, the senior vice president of enterprise at Microsoft subsidiary Tellme, said that one of the biggest advantages of SaaS and managed solutions is the ability to tune a system with every call, quickly and efficiently, making that system more powerful over time.
Voxify Executive Vice President Daniel Reed agreed, adding that a managed-services environment also enables vendors to “aggregate data for the benefit of individuals.” In other words, a vendor draws from the well of its experience, making increasing its competence and capabilities with each deployment.
Auburn, Reed's colleague at Voxeo, noted another advantage of a hosted environment: technology updates and the ability to keep systems and platforms evergreen with the latest advances. Some contact centers. he pointed out, are running legacy hardware but competing against newer, easier systems. “There are a lot of old, scary boxes sitting in basements [for 10 years at a time]," he said. "Having the technology move forward is very, very valuable.”
The panel agreed broadly that one of the main advantages of SaaS is speed of deployment, but also cautioned that sufficient attention must be paid to the implementation.
“Talk to people about their experience with speech and you’ll get very mixed results,” Tellme's Bertasi said. “We can be fast all we want, but if it doesn’t work — whatever the reasons are that things go wrong — we’re not, and our clients are not, going to achieve [our] goals.”
Bertasi also argued that systems continuing to move callers through the call flow in a very serial manner miss the point entirely. Good design, she said, helps users achieve goals quickly.
Despite the panel’s consensus on some matters, the stage also saw its share of occasional disagreement. Panelists, speaking to an audience of potential customers, vied to push their messages and wares within the allotted time constraints.
In one exchange, as Convergys's Watson had begun to wrap up an overview of his company's offerings, Voxeo's Auburn pointedly asked how many of Convergys’s ports were VoiceXML-enabled. Watson replied that he didn’t have an exact figure, but that it was above 50 percent. The exchange was polite but also illustrative of how competitive the hosted space -- with its multiplicity of vendors and plans from which to choose -- can be.