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TMC Labs
June 2002

Speech Driven Information System v2.1

San Diego, CA
Ph: 877-977-0707; Fx: 858-707-7072

Price: $250 per port for both SDIS and the Speech Recognition Engine

Installation: 5
Documentation: 4
Features: 4.25
GUI: 4
Overall: A-

A well-designed IVR system is a great solution to allow customers to perform quick queries, but a poorly designed IVR system can upset and annoy customers. We've all experienced a poorly designed IVR system. What companies need to realize is that customers' patience is limited and they will quickly 'zero out' to the operator, only to wait another 10 minutes in queue for a question that the IVR system could have answered. This common, problematic scenario makes the case for a well-designed IVR system.

In addition to their inherent cost savings, IVR systems can 'offload' simple, repetitive queries from agents, such as driving directions, account balances, store hours, etc., leaving agents ample time to address more complex customer queries.
Until now, IVR systems were limited due to their primary input method: touch-tone phone pads. With the advent of accurate natural speech recognition, IVR systems are experiencing a rebirth. LumenVox's Speech Driven Information System (SDIS) is a natural speech recognition app-gen wrapped around the company's Speech Recognition Engine and designed to answer your customers' commonly asked questions. SDIS was designed with relatively nontechnical people in mind, so developing on this platform is a fairly easy task. It runs on Windows 2000, supports a range of voice hardware including TAPI modems and Dialogic hardware, and can scale from as few as one port up to multiple T1 lines. The company even provides a free one-port version at no charge that can be downloaded from LumenVox's Web site.

Operational Testing
One of the first things we noticed about SDIS was how quickly and easily we were able to design a speech-recognition virtual assistant/IVR. SDIS comes with several examples, which are helpful when learning to use the product, as well as a five-minute tutorial wizard. We were able to quickly set up a test speech-rec IVR system in less than five minutes. Using SDIS, a caller can simply say, 'What is my account balance?' or 'How do I open an account?' The responses to these questions are very easily developed within the SDIS application generator screen, which can be tied to a back-end database for lookups. In the next release, LumenVox will support C++ calls to add more flexibility and to control the course of the call. For example, if an account is past due, the program can send the call to the 'make payment' menu rather than allowing the caller to gain access to other information.

SDIS has an attractive, clean interface, but it does take some getting used to. Although it was easy to use once we got the hang of it, its usability could be improved. For instance, we tried right-clicking on the elements within the Call Flow View (see Figure 1) in an attempt to rename it, but right-click functionality was not available. Also, from the Call View, we thought we could create a 'goto' statement (connecting elements) simply by drawing a line between the two elements, but this feature was unavailable. Two other key usability features that were unavailable include 'drag and drop' and 'copy/paste' capabilities.

Adding new phrases is accomplished by typing the phrases into SDIS. A user need not record the phrases into the system since the speech recognition engine is speaker independent. Instead, the system uses phonetic spelling to match the typed words to spoken speech. You can even organize several phrases to be matched to a single action. For example, the phrases 'Tell me my balance,' 'What is my balance?' and 'How much money do I have left?' can all result in the account balance being spoken. SDIS also lets you record your voice prompts from within the application. You can record a new prompt or link to a previously recorded prompt in the Library. You can also type a 'transcript' within the record window so you can simply read the transcript into the microphone. You can also play back the recording and re-record it to ensure it's exactly as you wanted it.

We particularly liked that SDIS supports using a sound card for development and testing. When we made our test calls, for ease of testing we used a sound card with a headset instead of a telephony board. In any event, when we tried some of the samples, we spoke our responses into the microphone and the natural speech recognition engine was quite accurate. SDIS supports barge-in, so there is no need to wait for a prompt to finish before making a request. In addition, it supports an 'out-of-vocabulary' filter that weeds out extraneous utterances such as 'um' and 'ah.'

TMC' Labs liked the SDIS Call Engine GUI, which displays the current status of the call along with the words recognized and the confidence score in the recognition. It also displays the last concept and the last module recognized. This is useful for debugging your application. Another useful debug utility is the Call Flow application, which shows the call flow, organized in a color-coded hierarchal layout. The module name and confidence score are displayed throughout the call flow. In addition, an audio button is displayed next to each module with the caller's corresponding recorded phrase. By pressing the appropriate button, a developer can determine why the confidence score was low or why a spoken phrase was recognized improperly.

The documentation was exclusively comprised of online help files, but this was not necessarily a drawback. Most developers prefer using online help files when looking up a particular API command or working within a development program. For non-techies who absolutely require a printed manual, the help files can be sent to a printer.

Room For Improvement
We noticed that we couldn't cut and paste or drag and drop elements from within the 'Question' screen, a feature we think would be useful. Also, within the Call Flow View, we couldn't select individual elements and duplicate them by using the copy/paste method. This would be helpful when menus are very similar and require only minor modifications. A MRU (Most Recently Used) list of recent projects in chronological order in the File menu would be beneficial, as well.

The Call Flow View interface only shows the arrows (goto commands) coming from or going to an individual screen element that you clicked on. We would like to see all of the connecting arrows displayed at all times, or at least the ability to turn the arrows on and off at will if the display becomes too cluttered.

LumenVox's Speech Driven Information System is a powerful, yet easy-to-use speech-recognition IVR development platform. TMC' Labs was very impressed with SDIS's feature-set, including barge-in and very good natural speech recognition engine. At $250 per port for SDIS and $250 per port for the Speech Recognition Engine, the product is very competitively priced. With LumenVox's free one-port version available for download on the company's Web site, we recommend that companies that currently use an IVR explore LumenVox's offering.

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