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Technology Highlights
October 2004

New Solutions For Web-Based Self-Service
By David R. Butcher, Assistant Editor,
Customer [email protected] Solutions® Magazine

2002 Editors' Choice Awards

Nortel Web-Centric Self Service

What happens when you combine the resources of a hypertext-based information system that distributes nearly everything you’d ever want (or not want) to know — from a recipe for Swamp Water Punch with the Floating Arm of Death (Floating Arm of Death optional) to the record held for Most Smarties Eaten With Chopsticks in Three Minutes (record: 108) — accessing hundreds of search engines and their resulting information with blanket voice processing technologies?

An amalgamation, of sorts, from Nortel Networks aims to alter the way in which enterprises and service providers deliver to their customers secure self-service voice applications through Web pages, allowing information within a Web page to be made available to a range of applications, including voice commands. Through automated self-service and by drawing information from any Web-accessible resource, companies can leverage their existing Web infrastructure for new levels of customer engagement.

Nortel’s Web-Centric Self-Service (WCSS) solution uses industry standards and is a convergence of Internet resources and voice processing applications, while still offering all of the core functionality of traditional IVR. It works with popular Web development tools, standard server platforms and desktop platforms to give enterprises and service providers the option to migrate to WCSS capabilities by using multi-vendor platforms and protocols on their present communications infrastructure. Nortel intends for this coalescence of telephony and Web paradigms to enable self-service applications to fully take advantage of investments already made by enterprises and service providers in Web applications.

Using a speech-based caller interface, companies have the ability to implement the WCSS solution and evolve it on their own timetable, phasing the migration of services and preserving the companies’ previous hardware investments using the versatile server platforms of WCSS, which support traditional and emerging protocols. You have one of those old-school phones with the spinning dialer? Any telephone can become a voice portal into the Web and activate self-service applications to attain the Web’s copious resources, even the most primitive of phones (though a can on string won’t work; I tried).

The Key Components
The four key components of Web-Centric Self Service — application processing, application service, management and development — are among a distributed, multi-tiered architecture that uses IP networks and the Internet to deliver the self-service applications.

The application processing components can manage voice dialogs and call control interactions with users and client devices. The purpose of the application service components is to provide the gateway to application data and logic, running on J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition). The management components run on an industry-standard desktop platform, and they provide unified administration of self-service platforms and applications. The group of components for development provides a visual environment for creating applications and scripts, running on standard PCs.

Advantages Of WCSS
Applications that can benefit from WCSS include application retrieval, e-commerce, financial services, internal processes, unified messages and, of course, directory assistance — all highly targeted output that is frequently offered from an HTML Web interface.

For the internal and external audience, using the WCSS offers advantageous Web-based development and content delivery: the end-users can interact naturally with the automated system, passing between different applications while maintaining the context of the session; the call treatments can be customized on-the-fly; and enterprises can maintain consistent branding between Web pages and the voice processing applications through multiple media.

Not only is WCSS intended to enable quick creation of sophisticated self-service applications capitalizing on an open architecture, it also allows the reusability of code among platforms and applications, saving significant time and re-work. Also, the end-to-end solution does not require multiple authentications; like a Web page, it’s a framework.

According to Manish Sharma, Nortel’s Group Manager in the Advanced Speech Processing Professional Services Group, “WCSS is like a Christmas tree — we give you the tree, and you add any ornaments you want.” Organizations that have embedded telephony-based contact center systems with instrumental life still enduring can decide how they want to implement the self-service applications.

They can upgrade to IP-based architectures, retain legacy components or use a hybrid of both old and new.

Users can access WCSS applications with the same telephony devices they currently use, as well as with PCs, hand-held devices or any other Web access devices. Doing so, users will input data the same ways they do now, using natural speech or pressing touch-tone keys, and they will also use the keyboard and mouse for Web-driven applications. The output will then come in the form of text-to-speech audio, Web-based audio or pre-recorded local audio prompts.

So, it seems that the Web can offer more than seemingly picayune trivia and porn. (This Internet thing seems to be catching on. In this industry, who knew?) Nortel Networks’ blending of telephony and the Web (with its vast amount of resources) with Web-Centric Self Service is one option for those who want to reinvigorate — at their own pace — the relationship between customer and company, and the secure, self-service applications in between.

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