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labs.GIF (1895 bytes)
September 1999


Liaison 4.1

Locus Dialogue
460 St. Catherine Street West, Suite 800
Montreal, Quebec Canada H3B1A7
P: 888-465-6287; F: 514-954-3805
Web site: http://www.locus.ca

Price: Starting at $6000 (avg. $15,000-$20,000)

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RATINGS (0-5)
Installation: N/A
Documentation: 4.5
Features: 4.25
GUI: 4.75
Overall: A-


The Liaison software from Locus Dialogue is an enterprise speech portal that can host a directory of up to 7,500 names. It is connected to your telephone system and acts as an operator to answer the phone, greet the caller and connect the call to the desired person. Liaison also allows you to administer and manage the phone directory system as well as monitor the activity of the phone lines. Also, the dialog between caller and the attendant has a natural feeling to its conversational flow. The questions it asks are similar to what a live operator might ask, and in most instances it has human-recorded prompts rather than text-to-speech.

Installation
Liaison is usually installed based on the customer's needs. For us, it arrived preinstalled, so all we needed to do was connect an analog cable from Locus Dialogue's workstation to our phone system, obtain our license and enter the default passwords given to us by Locus Dialogue. Later, the company uploaded a demo directory into the system so we could test Liaison more effectively. While all of this was a very easy process, it is not really enough for us to reasonably determine the ease and flexibility of the product's installation process.

Documentation
The documentation consists of a system manager's guide, help files and a sheet that explains what's new in version 4.1 of Liaison. The system's manager's guide is very solid. It is concise, understandable and well organized. It also consists of many screenshots, a table of contents and a decent index.

The help files, which are new to version 4.1, are also well organized. You can click on the topic you want and receive a detailed description of that topic. The one drawback is that the help files are not context-sensitive. Instead, you must go into the help files and choose the topic you want.

Features
The following is a list of the major features included with the basic Liaison package:

  • Voice recognition by name or by department with the option to spell out the name if needed, barge-in and the ability to update a company?s phone directory without interrupting service.
  • DTMF capabilities.
  • Statistical information for analysis viewed through Liaison?s graphical report generator.
  • Optional text-to-speech features and text-to-spell functionality.
  • Time-sensitive options and an emergency greeting that can be recorded and activated remotely.
  • The ability to support three different languages: English, French and Spanish (the system we tested supported only English and French, but the Spanish-integrated version is now on the market).

The optional Liaison Links module adds more flexibility in customizing Liaison. Liaison Links' major features include:

  • Multiple menu systems that are each in a hierarchical structure, from the top-level menu to many submenus.
  • Audiotext entries that can record messages played in response to caller's requests.

Operational Testing
We examined many aspects of Liaison version 4.1: the accuracy and efficiency of its voice recognition, the look and effectiveness of its graphical interface, the Links module and the ease of performing the voice recordings. After the directory was uploaded into our particular Liaison system, we called it to test how well the voice recognition performed.

Even though it was not perfect, it did perform admirably. Often, the system interpreted the name we asked for on the first try, especially when we pronounced the name or service correctly. When we spoke more softly, slightly mispronounced a name or used a common nickname, the system had more problems, but it still interpreted the name on the first try the majority of the time. On rare occasions, it was unable to identify the right person, department or service we wanted. In these cases, the call would be transferred to a receptionist (in a real-world situation). Normally, if the system is unsure of what you said (a low match score), the system will prompt you and ask "is this name correct?" Unfortunately, there were a few instances where the Liaison system transferred us to the wrong location without first confirming its matched name with us. However, during our exhaustive testing, this rarely occurred.

We often barged-in (with speech, not with DTMF functionality even though that is an option) to the voice prompts with successful results. This feature can make a caller's life a lot easier and therefore is a very important capability. At times, however, some background noise confused the system, and it would cut off the recording to ask the caller what was said. This could present a problem since almost all offices have background noise.

Upon our initial review of the product, we noticed how clean the graphical interface appeared. With further scrutiny, we still found that for the most part, the GUI followed Windows conventions effectively and was extremely easy to use. After entering our password, a selection menu appeared. With this menu, you can choose to start, stop, load, maintain, monitor and backup the Liaison system as well as start either the phone directory or report generator applications.

In our system, the Links module option was integrated with the phone directory application. This module made entering data very easy with its hierarchical structure, from the top-level menu all the way through its submenus. New employee, department and audiotext entries are all input in a similar fashion and with relative ease. Any additions or modifications by the user are updated when pressing the activate changes button.

Voice recording is a simple matter of selecting the voice file or text-to-speech entry you would like to record, clicking the record button and speaking into a handset from a phone connected to the system. Of course, you must first call into the system, enter your maintenance password and follow the simple instructions. When this is done, the recorder screen will automatically appear on the monitor. This is so straightforward, users can probably figure it out quite easily. For the most success on your first attempt, the recording should be done in a noise-free environment. After saving the recorded prompt, message, name, greeting or audiotext through the graphical interface, you can trim portions of the recorded prompt.

Room For Improvement
Since the interface, especially with the Links module installed, is very efficient, we have only a few suggestions. The GUI would be even cleaner if you could wrap the text entered. As it stands, you can only enter data indefinitely onto one line. Also, more colors besides yellow, green and red would add to the display of the reports. Context-sensitive help files would also add users as they navigate Liaison's GUI.

When recording a prompt, we liked the ability to use the GUI interface to record via the phone and the ability to trim portions of a prompt. However, it would be nice to have the option to use a microphone connected to the sound card and access it through the GUI in order to record the prompts. In this way, the quality would be much better than recording through a phone. Of course, since this product uses standard .vox files, we can use third-party software to record these .vox files using a microphone. However, we wouldn't know what to name the files.

Customer satisfaction is obviously the key to the success of any system. If the caller is confused or frustrated by the voice attendant, it reflects badly on the company employing the system. For the most part, Liaison serves a customer well, but it would be even better if the voice on the system always asked the caller if the name it found in the directory was correct. In this way, there would be no chance of the system transferring the call to the wrong location. At the very least, the product should allow the customer to choose whether or not to always confirm or to not confirm if the score matching is extremely high.

Conclusion
Locus Dialogue has created a speech product that will help the public dispel the notion of voice recognition being unready for primetime. There are still kinks in the armor of voice recognition, but Liaison is one system that is trying to bend the armor into shape. With a mostly error-free speech product, a clean interface, some effective monitoring capabilities, an efficient report generator and the continuous efforts by Locus Dialogue to improve the product, Liaison should have a bright future as businesses of different sizes become more comfortable with voice recognition technology.







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