You say Success-o. I say sucks-oh-so.

I spent a little time over the weekend filling in a feedback questionnaire for my favourite mail-order coffee company. No names mentioned.

The feedback for them was very good, because when I spoke to them by phone they were prompt, courteous, helpful and even applied a discount to the delivery costs. They gave me an estimated delivery time and the coffee came even sooner. All-in-all, splendid customer service right? I'm sure after that successful call and great feedback there'll be a bit of back-slapping in the corridors at doing so well.

Except this feedback failed to capture one important thing: that call should never have happened.

After a week of failed attempts to order on a broken website and a dire shortage of my coffee supplies I was forced to pick up the phone to order. Not my preferred contact channel.

For me, in my customer centric goal-oriented world, this was the final unnecessary hurdle in a failed process where I had to resort to phone to get my task complete and a problem fixed. For said coffee company, in their channel-focussed world of call centre targets, it was a brilliantly executed sales call.

Unless organisations like this begin to understand customer journeys, begin to take account of transactions across multiple channels, begin to measure needless interactions caused by failure, they will never get a true understanding of their performance, their effect on customers and the cost of failure.

It can cost 100x more to process a transaction with a live person on the end of the phone than it does via an automated web service. The company left me with a warm fuzzy feeling, sure. But they certainly paid the price.

twit 2 who? Stephen Fry of course...

I was pondering the content of this article a few weeks ago, trying to get to grips with what it might mean to be a society of fully mobile individuals, always-on, always-connected. I can't help but feel it has the potential to change us - for better or worse - because it fundamentally alters the way we share and transmit information and engage with each other. Could it be so significant that the importance of the written word elevates itself above that of our innate desire to speak?
This pondering was, of course, all before our beloved Stephen Fry appeared on Jonathan Ross' talk show (23rd Jan 2009) and reminded us all how much of a twitterer he is. With reckless disregard for the consquences I logged onto Mr. Fry's twitter stream to discover a witty and joyful microscopic bi-hourly stream of what it is to be living the Fry-life, being followed by over 60,000 intrigued individiuals. Naturally I added one to their number (and it has since increased enormously).
At the time of writing, Mr Fry is 2nd in the twitter kingdom for his impressive Followship, while a certain Mr. Obama undeservingly heads the leader board (with a tragically small amount of actual content).
So immediately my mind turned to the thoughts I had been having previously, and to considering what influence does a man with an iphone and 100,000 voyeurs actually wield? What purpose and meaning is in it all? What is it we crave when we spectate on such a beloved figure in such touching detail. And how do we make sense of the paradox of such intimacy, yet such distance and remoteness? Is it doing something to our psyche?
While it remains one of my dearest aspirations to have Mr. Fry over for tea sometime (a cup of Eary Grey and a lip-smackingly good home-made curry), I have to make do with the virtual updates of his walks round Soho, trips to the Mexican visa office and meal choices while filming on set. This is extraordinarily intimate, so much so, that although he has never graced my table, I feel I do know him, I feel I am connected with him, involved in his life. (I wonder if he knows?)
Of course, if he ever replies to any of my twitty interjections, the mirage will be fully complete.
It is all very astonishing, most certainly more revolutionary than evolutionary, since Mother Nature could not have given us these abilities in quite such a short time frame - and therein lies the intrigue. We inhabit the information revolution, it is all around us. We cannot analyse its final outcome, since it is yet to happen. We can only feel our way, experiment with it, embrace it, learn from- and to enjoy it. Either way, in thrusting oneself headlong into this revolution's social web, it becomes captivating. The contribution of my new best pal Mr. Fry is as yet unmeasured, but in stature alone (regardless of content) is most certainly significant.
Where does this leave us in telecoms? Thinking hard about where to earn our lunch, that's where (in contrast to Stephen, who has it provided by the film production company).
(more thoughts on that later)

The Ultimate Mashup: Web 2.0 & Next-Gen Telecom Application Servers

The stunning success of Web 2.0 applications is forcing telecom service providers around the world to speed up their next-gen service plans, leading to the deeper integration of Web-based technologies with telecom application servers, according to a major new report from Heavy Reading (, the research division of Light Reading (

The Ultimate Mashup: Web 2.0 & Next-Gen Telecom Application Servers examines the effect of Web services on next-generation telecom application servers, identifying the techniques, protocols, and hardware configurations that network operators must include in their purchasing criteria. The report profiles and analyzes 28 leading suppliers of Web and telecom application servers, assessing their products, development plans, and technology strategies.

The Ultimate Mashup: Web 2.0 & Next-Gen Telecom Application Servers includes a case study of the BT 21st-Century Network (21CN) initiative to capture the strategies, decision points, and variables BT considered in plotting its transition strategy. The 67-page report provides a complete and detailed view of the emerging next-gen application server market, including:

  • The evolution path of the telecom application server and the most likely future course for application servers
  • The challenges network operators face in delivering Web 2.0 services, including the impact of alternative carriers such as Vonage and Skype
  • An assessment of the relevant application program interfaces (APIs) and programming languages used by application servers
  • An analysis of the various types of application servers, the services they enable, and their functional roles as detailed in industry standards
  • An evaluation of Telco 2.0 and Web 2.0 services integration
  • A detailed competitive analysis of the products, overall vision, market strategies, and long-term prospects of next-gen application server technology suppliers

"After more than a decade of parallel development as clearly defined separate entities, Web servers and telecom application servers are now becoming much more closely aligned," says Jim Hodges, senior analyst with Heavy Reading and author of the report. "The momentum of Web 2.0 services is driving this closer relationship. For example, it is now possible to purchase, from vendors such as IBM and BEA, combined SIP and HTTP Web servers that from a hardware perspective represent a converged telecom/Web application server."

One factor that is preventing a faster convergence of Web 2.0 and application server technologies is the reluctance of vendors on both sides to compete head on, Hodges notes. "Both sides recognize that their skill sets are not as well suited to competing in different markets, and the R&D costs are prohibitive – meaning that telecom vendors will not develop Web servers and Web vendors will not develop telephony features," he explains. "Still, this separation is showing clear signs of dissolution, such as the decision by Web vendor Oracle to internally develop telecom features to support VOIP and Virtual PBX applications."

Other key findings of The Ultimate Mashup: Web 2.0 & Next-Gen Telecom Application Servers include the following:

  • The success of the Web 2.0 business model is motivating application server providers to integrate more Web 2.0-type capabilities into their platforms. Vendors delivering new application servers with Web 2.0 features include Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Nokia Siemens, Nortel Networks, and Sonus.
  • Hardware differentiation among telecom application servers is now virtually meaningless. Most suppliers of telecom application servers have migrated to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) server configurations, such as BladeCenter T, which are essentially carrier-grade Web servers. This means vendors have relinquished the ability to differentiate products at a hardware level. Telecom application server vendors are shifting their focus to delivery of high-quality modular software that maximizes the scaleability of the base platform. Accordingly, while telecom vendors such as Genband and Avaya sell software-only solutions today, at least one major vendor is considering the adoption of this approach in the second half of 2008.
  • Renewed interest by major vendors in the development of application server products will likely lead to further consolidation among suppliers. The consolidation and rationalization that occurred in 2007, with the merger of Aepona and Appium and the acquisition of Ubiquity by enterprise-based Avaya, will continue apace. The most notable move this year has been Oracle's announced acquisition of BEA.

Speak2Me Successfully Completes Tests of Its Online Service

Speak2Me Inc. has successfully completed beta tests of its online service for conversational English at three Beijing universities.
These beta tests, with students at Capital Normal University, Beijing Union University and the National Geology University, bring Speak2Me one step closer to a full scale China-wide rollout of the commercial version of its online service for English language learners. [click heading for more]

Voice Mash-ups – Imagination is the biggest barrier

Voice as an interface is overlooked. The phone is ubiquitous. Everyone knows how to use them – and how to interact with automated voice applications. As well applications like speech recognition (ASR) and Text to Speech (TTS) are robust enough to make voice a reliable option for both control and data delivery for any application. Combine this with web development approaches, which have proven architectures to deliver a seamless user experience by coordinated multiple services and opportunity for new voice applications is apparent.

Still all development depends on having both users and a business case. By using data from multiple sources, delivering them through existing services and by focusing on a relatively small feature set mash-ups make it easy to solve issues that might be ignored with other paradigms. [click heading for more]

Voxeo Announces General Availability of Designer 8

Today Voxeo Corporation announced the general availability of Voxeo Designer 8, the rapid, web-native voice application development tool. Designer has been available to Voxeo premise customers since the debut of the Prophecy 8 platform in August, and is now also available to Voxeo hosting customers. Designer 8 incorporates a new Web 2.0 interface that leverages AJAX for a significant user-interface improvement over previous versions. [click heading for more]

mr.nik's opinion: The world-wide widget: Voice Web 2.0

The first time I set up a page on 'Myspace' I was sorely unmoved. Frankly, it appeared not much different from something us web 1.0 oldies remember from a dozen years ago: Geocities. A place where you could create your free online presence; and millions did. The difference then was that you had total flexibility - a blank page with a remit to create your own garish HTML. Many tried, few succeeded very well.

Myspace is, of course, different. You are actually far more restricted with what you can do, but at the same time you're provided with a set of functions that let you connect your page with those of anyone else you choose. The other difference is, we now have a generation of web 2.0 teenagers growing up who have embraced web 2.0 and never heard or seen web 1.0. So, while they continue to express themselves and stamp out their identity as strongly as their counterparts did a dozen years ago, there is no knowledge of what is under the bonnet; indeed there is no need to know; just configure the building blocks. This process is trivial and consequently this 'social' web is richer and more dynamic than its forefather, even if it is just as aesthetically ugly to look at.

Of course, facebook has come along to make amends - slick, tidy and neat it appeals to those of us (perhaps a little older) with less of an urge to look quite so flashingly-neon and radically different from the crowd. But the key points remain: the open interface and the ease with which any of thousands of pre-built applications can be deployed and customised breathes incredible life and variety into everyones' own personal corner of the web.

This is the incredible power of open standards (such as XML) finally coming home to roost: the ability to incorporate gadgets, widgets and chicklets into any online home, to create an effervescent, engaging and almost living web experience, no matter who you are. This is the web creating the web; the web's users rather than its architects shaping the experience they want themselves and others to enjoy. Building with blocks rather than creating them.

So, will this ever happen with Voice? Yes, I'm pretty sure it will - or at least I'm pretty sure it ought to.

On the whole we are still at the stage of dabbling - halfway between Geocities and Facebook - with organisations starting to deploy and offer 'packaged applications' and speech vendors starting to ship 'components' that can be used as a leg-up in complex applications. But it still feels very much like cutting and pasting the code of web 1.0 rather than organising the widgets of web 2.0. Still making the bricks rather than building with them.

Part of the reason is that voice tools and interfaces and platforms are not yet sufficiently mature to fully embrace this way of thinking - although leading service creation environments, such as Vicorp's xMP, are successfully pushing the boundaries. But the other reason is that Voice Applications (unlike Myspace pages) are not in the hands of teenagers, but in the hands of their parents and grandparents in the form of IT Managers and Customer-Service directors, undergoing a rather conservative osmosis by evolution, not revolution.

But I do dream of the day when the 'voice web' (as Nuance once called it) will come of age. I will create my voice-enabled application 'mashup' as easily as I log onto blogger and create a new blog post, or add a new gadget to iGoogle. I will click save to deploy it instantly on somebody's hosting platform, or perhaps even better, somewhere in my telco's enormous network. To be honest, I don't care and I don't need to - this is the power of open standards. If I need third party content, I'll drop in a widget or two that provides it. Most of what I'll actually do is provide content and engagement and not worry about how to make the whole thing work.

Perhaps this sounds like the sort of thing that doesn't really need to happen in the business environment (where voice applications currently live and breathe and are far too mission-critical). Perhaps "voice for the masses" is an imaginary product that doesn't have an audience. I'm not so sure. Our "connected world" is becoming engrained in our cultural DNA. From teenagers who want to create their own voicemail service, to Customer-Satisfaction directors who want to outshine the competition, I think we're destined to hear a lot more about Voice.

Sound Will Drive Mobile Web Growth

Although cell phones are ubiquitous, only limited numbers of individuals use them to surf the mobile Web. Whereas the keyboard interface with a cell phone is far from ideal, the cell phone is designed expressly to handle sound. In parts of the developing world, the cell phone will be the only device that many will use to surf the mobile web. The huge potential of these developing world markets will well justify the investment needed to develop strong voice recognition systems....

It is quite clear that these three companies [Nuance, Microsoft, Google] are highly attracted by the potential of the sound-based mobile Web. Their competitive efforts to gain the lion’s share will certainly boost the rate of growth of this marketplace... [more >>>]