A Voice For Smaller Businesses - InformationWeek
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7/28/2008
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A Voice For Smaller Businesses

Running a smaller business is all about being flexible, available, and often trying to appear larger than you actually are. One of the ways to achieve that is with a speech-enabled auto-attendant: that slightly disembodied voice that can direct callers, make your calls and read e-mail, among other things. Those systems are usually expensive but Active Voice just came out with Active Voice SPEAK which is designed for small and midsize businesses -- in its ease of set up, use, and, most significan

Running a smaller business is all about being flexible, available, and often trying to appear larger than you actually are. One of the ways to achieve that is with a speech-enabled auto-attendant: that slightly disembodied voice that can direct callers, make your calls and read e-mail, among other things. Those systems are usually expensive but Active Voice just came out with Active Voice SPEAK which is designed for small and midsize businesses -- in its ease of set up, use, and, most significantly, price.Active Voice, which is owned by NEC, has been making speech-enabled auto attendants for a while now but always for large enterprises  mainly because of the cost. I spoke with Eyal Inbar, general manager of marketing and product development for the company and he said that the company knew small and midsize businesses needed something simpler and more affordable.

"Small and midsize businesses need [a speech-enabled auto attendant] most," he said. "They need enhanced voice control, they need a call routing system. Large corporations are more stagnant but in small and midsize businesses everyone is wearing multiple hats. They do more than one job title in the organization."

Inbar says the company identified three requirements that smaller businesses needed to make this work for them: they need all the mobility features, they need a very simple appliance that can be installed and used easily, and can't be more than a few thousand dollars.

The "secret sauce" was a deal with Lumenvox for Linux-based speech recognition technology and Digium for its open standard hardware. The result is a "plug and play" system that can be integrated into any existing telephony infrastructures your company already has. It has speech recognition, reads e-mail, calendars, and can track you down wherever you are. Inbar says that the corporate directory can be created by uploading from an active directory or CSV file.

The demo on the site gives a pretty good sense of how the system works. But I called in to Atcive Voice's house system get a first-hand experience of the auto attendant and I was pleasantly surprised: I was understood every time.

Travis Moroch, Active Voice's product manager told me that the system allows for aliases and can also be set for the individual subscribe to set their own alias. Users can access their their own e-mail and calendar from the Web interface. .Pretty much everything can be done through the Web interface.

According to Inbar, Nuance is their closest competitor, in terms of speech recognition and small and midsize businesses.

Another thing that Inbar mentioned stayed with me: It's the smaller businesses that need to "fake it" a little and look bigger. An appliance like this helps.

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