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How Ready Is the Technology for Enterprise Converged, Mobile Communications?
[December 20, 2005]

How Ready Is the Technology for Enterprise Converged, Mobile Communications?

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View
In my last column reviewing a recent conference, I suggested that IP business telecommunications are at that awkward stage where:
  • The network infrastructure is converging to support both voice and data transport,
  • Multi-modal communication device technologies are converging user visual and speech interfaces,
  • The business process and communication application software developers are stepping on each other's toes,
  • And the market is still trying to decide how and when it should do what in terms of planning for the inevitable changes taking place in how people and applications will contact mobile people for business purposes, as opposed to the much easier task of people accessing online applications.

One of the questions I asked was whether the technology is really ready yet for the market needs. A quick response came from a technology provider that proposes a "graceful" migration path for business processes to support mobile users with self-service applications.  Because mobility often requires communicating "on the go," speech interfaces are an important option even for handheld devices with screens and buttons. So, here's the approach they are taking for a particular vertical market.

Hi Art,
.... I have been in the industry for some time, always focused on the application level of convergence: Unified Messaging / Communications, Call Centers, Speech recognition, IVR and Intelligent Call routing.
Regarding the topic of "How ready is the technology for enterprise converged and mobile communications?" I believe that we, the technology suppliers, have a responsibility to provide applications that not only work, but are also relevant to the customer challenges and help evolve rather than forklift the business process.
For example, we target the field services industry, one where most of the SMBs still use paper-based work order management processes and rely heavily on mobile personnel "calling into dispatch" to provide status updates or get new jobs orders. Many wireless solution providers (and ISVs who build WO management and scheduling software) offer handheld computing solutions that extend the business system to the mobile worker. The concept is great, but it is expensive, very complex to deploy from an IT perspective and very hard to adopt from an end user perspective (many field techs are craft geniuses, but they aren't necessarily computer savvy).
Our approach is to gracefully take these companies forward in business automation through a converged applications roadmap that builds on the technology and user experience over time.
1. The first implementation step recommended is a simple, speech-based work order management application that leverages the existing technician's cell phone and simply automates the "talking to dispatch" process. Hosted service deployment can minimize the support impact on IT resources.
2. The second stage of technology implementation is to enhance the speech application with more complex user functions for ordering parts or capturing activity notes. Additional options such as SMS integration enables the field technician to instruct the application process to deliver customer information to his cell phone, eliminating the need to manually write down that information.
3. The third wave introduces true convergence with a broadband wireless device and application. Voice is used for input commands and the screen is used to display rich application text and data. The key here is that because the technician has already been using speech for 12 - 18 months, adopting the wireless handheld is a relatively simple evolution from previous processes!
So, is the time right? I say the answer is yes, but the key is to selectively target business processes that can quantifiably benefit from both mobility and multi-modal convergence, and roll out the applications in a practical manner that makes sense to those who use it. That said, I do see speech becoming mainstream in the next few years as solution providers:
  • Build on proven speech technologies (telephony based speech is definitely there),
  • Target applications and vertical markets where the user interacts with the speech interface on a regular basis, and
  • The VUI (voice user interface) is intuitive and has been flexibly designed to accommodate both rookie and power user alike.
  • Think how many business applications are out there where we only use 15% of the functional capabilities!
Mike Byrnes, Vice President, Business Development
Pronexus Inc. - 613-271-8989,just say "Mike Byrnes"
(mobile) 613-850-4474
What Do You Think?
Do you think that designing application speech interfaces is more critical for any mobile or telephony business application than an online GUI? Does the enterprise need better tools for such speech application development, or is special interface design expertise what is really required? As handheld devices become multi-modal, will all business applications have to be designed for both speech recognition and GUI interfaces? Is the traditional IVR TUI going to fade away in favor of both screen GUIs and speech recognition? 

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