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November 30, 2006

Sea Change of VoiceXML and Phone Application Servers Too Great to Ignore

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

Chances are, if you are a consumer and have used the phone to contact a company with which you do business, you may have encountered VoiceXML. Not sure? If you have called AT&T’s (News - Alert) toll-free directory assistance or Cingular’s Voice Connect, General Motors Onstar or E-trade, all of these organizations are utilizing VoiceXML in an effort to better serve their customers.
Based on the Worldwide Web Consortium’s (W3C’s) Extensible Markup Language (XML), VoiceXML uses speech recognition and/or touchtone (DTMF keypad) for input, and pre-recorded audio and text-to-speech synthesis (TTS) for output. The technology is quickly surpassing proprietary IVR as it is considered faster, available in reusable and off-the-shelf applications, less expensive and easily integrated.
The cost savings associated with VoiceXML is one of the biggest draws to the technology. It is less expensive than traditional IVR, due in part to that fact that IVR requires a second silo infrastructure from existing Web infrastructure while VoiceXML does not. This difference can save organizations a considerable amount of capital when the commercial Web team can also manage the IVR application, instead of having separate Web and IVR development teams.
In addition, the installation of VoiceXML behind a customer’s firewall on their own premise is not the only available option. VoiceXML solutions can also be hosted by service providers for rapid deployment at minimal up-front cost. As needs continue to grow and change, the solutions can be migrated to on-premises platforms to maximize control while also realizing cost savings.
VoiceXML offers businesses of all sizes the ability to be better positioned to afford enterprise-class, state-of-the-art voice systems that facilitate lower costs and maximize revenue generating opportunities.
However, VoiceXML-based IVRs may not be enough for some companies. What if a business wants to easily create a personalized experience for customers? What if a business wants to make frequent changes to the IVR and roll them back if the changes don’t work. How does a business easily document and track the application? How does a development team work on different parts of the application at the same time?  
This is where a new kind of software called a phone application server comes in. Introduced this year by VoiceObjects, a phone application server operates in the same way as a Web application server does for Internet-based applications. Let’s take a look at what that means.
Google, Amazon.com, SAP (News - Alert), eBay all have something in common. They all use a Web application server as a middle tier that allows for (1) personalization of the each and every user experience (2) online updates and changes (3) support for a Web Services or a Service Oriented Architecture that allows for faster, more maintainable integrations with backend systems and (4) support for multi-media experiences.
Think about it. Every time you go to Amazon.com (News - Alert), the online store recommends products and services that are likely to be good fits to assist you in your shopping. When was the last time you remember Google (News - Alert) going down because the company was updating the service? Loads of new applications are leveraging SAP’s SOA architecture support for faster integrations.   And multimedia communications experiences are delivered by Skype (News - Alert). All of these capabilities are made available using the modern Internet architecture that includes a Web application server.
Like a Web application server, the phone application server provides the same kinds of benefits to companies building phone applications such as an over-the-phone customer service application. This is brand new for the telephone world – a world that has largely been proprietary and non-standard.
Now with the rapid adoption of VoiceXML-based IVRs and the introduction of the phone application server, consumers can experience the same kind of rich, robust and personalized experience as they do on the Web.
Technology of this new generation and the capabilities that it is providing is continuing to drive the demand for better access to information and problem resolution. As competition in nearly every industry is intensified and organizations strive for differentiation through customer service, solutions like VoiceXML and phone application servers enable  a vastly improved  customer experience, leading to higher phone self-service adoption and lower costs to companies.

Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMC and has also written for eastbiz.com. To see more of her articles, please visit Susan J. Campbell’s columnist page.

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