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August 2001


Solutions For E-Mail And Speech Interfaces

BY ERIK LOUNSBURY, Editorial Director

By now, every reader should be aware of the difficulties of efficiently handling the vast amount of e-mail that comes into their organizations. One company that has made inroads into solving the e-mail dilemma is EchoMail. Under the guidance of its president and CEO V. A. Shiva (who built his first e-mail system back in 1979 and received a Ph.D. from M.I.T., where he worked on pattern recognition), EchoMail has been helping companies (and the U.S. Senate, which has been known to receive two million e-mails a day) with their e-mail problems for the past seven years.

EchoMail's EchoMail product line (available in an ASP or shrink-wrapped model) employs key-word filtering to extract attitude, issue, request, customer type and product/service type from every incoming e-mail. This allows for a better understanding of what the customer is asking, how best to fulfill the request and where to route the e-mail for response.

Components of EchoMail include: EchoMail Customer Care, which automatically receives, manages, routes, responds and tracks inbound e-mail originating from a Web site or an Internet address; EchoMail/TelePhony (TP), which enables the integration of e-mail and phone, including automatic call distribution for blending e-mail and phone communications; EchoMail/Data Warehouse (DW), a Web-based platform for data warehousing of e-mail mailing list data along with a company's customer database; EchoMail/Reports (RP), which is a Web-based platform for creating reports from both e-mail and other customer information; EchoMail/Direct Marketing (DM), which is a direct marketing platform for managing mailing lists and executing outbound e-mail campaigns; EchoMail/Response Management (RM), which manages responses from direct marketing promotions and automatically manages bounce backs, unsubscribes and e-commerce transaction tracking; EchoMail/Lead Management (LM), which was built specifically for trade shows and events and allows clients to gather leads from the trade show floor, edit the information, post the data directly to the central database and automatically export the data through the Web and e-mail; EchoMail/Event Notification (EN), which enables customers to be notified based on events such as renewals, billing statements and other time-based events; and EchoMail/ Business Intelligence (BI), which analyzes each e-mail that is received or sent and automatically categorizes each e-mail by attitude, issue, request, sender type and product/service. Once e-mails are categorized, EchoMail/BI can be used in conjunction with EchoMail/CC, EchoMail/DW, EchoMail/LM or EchoMail/DM to automatically calculate and send responses, integrate e-mail categorization with existing customer data, automatically route leads and perform intelligent, targeted outbound mailings.

Look to voice for a possible solution to the inefficiency of "while I wondered, nearly napping, suddenly there came a rapping, as if someone gently tapping, tapping on my PDA." I've been in meetings with executives tapping away like so many accountants, barely looking up from their rude, incessant tapping, even when you are sitting across the table from them, highlighting the fact that a major drawback to PDAs is their time-intensive, inefficient interface. SpeechWorks, Inc. has released its OpenSpeech Product Suite, which could not only lead to the voice enabling of PDA interfaces, but add better voice recognition capabilities to systems that interact with other wireless devices as well.

SpeechWorks OpenSpeech Recognizer 1.0 is an open, high-performance speech recognition engine that complies with the VoiceXML and W3C requirements. The OpenSpeech Recognizer processes callers' spoken commands and ascribes meaning to them. Its standard features include: natural language, that is it understands callers' complete phrases and sentences; speaker independence, that is it understands multiple speakers including those with accents and without the need for user training; barge-in, which lets callers interrupt prompts when they know what they want to do next; grammar management, where in a VoiceXML environment, grammars reside separately from the OpenSpeech Recognizer and are loaded into the engine only when they are needed to recognize speech; FST technology, which was developed by AT&T and incorporated into the OpenSpeech Recognizer to establish a set of rules that the engine follows when completing a transaction, and has resulted in up to 90 percent memory reductions compared to previous SpeechWorks versions and provides the ability to support vocabularies of up to one million words; endpointing technology, which incorporates complex algorithms that ignore high-energy noise events that are not speech and helps the speech application determine speech starts and stops; and LEARN technology, which automatically improves accuracy in deployed systems by adapting to callers' language patterns.

SpeechWorks is also providing Open-Speech DialogModules, which are standards-based VoiceXML objects. The Collect module is designed to collect information by prompting the caller and "listening" for an answer; if none is detected, the caller is re-prompted. The Evaluate module evaluates a response to determine if there is sufficient information to formulate a hypothesis as to what the caller said, or if the answer should be rejected and the caller re-prompted. During the confirmation phase, performed by the Confirm/Act module, a hypothesis with a low confidence score would ask the caller to confirm or deny the hypothesis, whereas a hypothesis with a high confidence results in direct action to the next phase of the speech application.

The author may be contacted at

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