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February 07, 2006

Text-to-Speech Solutions Find More Space in Offices

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Information technology is rapidly advancing to levels never envisioned a few years ago. Information systems using speech recognition and speech-synthesis as the user interface are increasingly entering the market.

You can now access network-based data simply by speaking and listening, thanks to a new technology known as "voice portal". And this is just one among several solutions available that allow data access using a telephone and speech. Vendors are increasingly releasing these products that enable users to access network-based data simply by speaking and listening.

Mr Sanjeev Sawa, research and development vice-president at Envox Worldwide, an international IT company, says mobile phones have proliferated in the market and made the interface simple.


"Telephone-based information access promises to be a large and growing market, mainly because the device is ubiquitous," he says. In addition, the technology available to create voice portals is very mature and stable.

Given the right kind of hardware and services on the call-handling end (where the VoIP - Voice over Internet Protocol - user goes to pick up data), text-to-speech may be performed on demand and on the fly (when requested). Mr Sawai sees this to be a lasting trend. "Voice portals are commonly viewed as an alternative to web sites for simple information access," he says. "This is a long way of saying voice portals are here to stay."

But will the pervasiveness of speech cause a revolution in the IT industry or will it drive the evolution and contact centres in terms of improving their ability to retain customers, bring down costs and create new streams of revenue?

Mr Brian Garr, a program director and segment manager for contact centre solutions at IBM Software Group, explains: "People used it to dictate with proper pauses between words, and then speech technology evolved to allow natural speech (no more pauses)."

Most people can speak faster than they type, but most companies were not willing to put the time and effort into training and maintaining the speech recognition system. "Once the industry started placing speech technology in application outside the desktop, people's lives began to benefit from speech technology's evolution. The more advantageous places we put speech, the more speech silo breaks down and speech becomes easier to design, deploy and use," explains Mr Garr.

A lot goes into making VoIP work, but there is no inherent reason why automated text-to-speech translation software can not plug into this equation to enable users to listen to e-mails, text messages, or other forms of textual information (including documents) instead of reading such information in textual form on a visual display device of some kind, says Garr.


This can be particularly helpful for those using hand-held devices with only limited screen real estate, and equally limited text display capabilities.

But will the way we interact with computers be revolutionised by speech?

Many companies demand directed dialogue applications in industries such as financial services and banking, where customers want to obtain their bank balance, locate a nearby ATM or transfer funds. The financial sector has always been the leader in the use of speech technologies. Other industries with strong demand for these kinds of inquiry/transaction interactions include insurance, telecommunications, government, travel, utilities and consumer packaged goods.

Mr Garr says, "We are just now beginning to see how natural language self service can be beneficial across many industries. These applications are user friendly, and they enhance the customer experience, as well as create an on-demand environment for customer service."

Their value will expand as new tools to reduce the time to market for advanced natural language applications are developed, the IT expert adds.

Speech verification has huge potential to reduce fraud and identity theft. However, little government regulation exist that dictates when speech verification is proof of action. There are many flavours of speech verification out there, and the applications and user interfaces are still being refined.

"We have witnessed great advances in the past five years in the quality of text-to-speech (TTS), and we will continue to see that technology become more natural and easier on the ear," he says. This indicates more applications using TTS rather than recorded prompts will be created.

One area remains virtually untapped, however: speaker independent transcription over the phone, which would allow a user to dictate an e-mail or add notes to your customer database using your phone.

Speech Recognition

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