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3/15/2009
12:28 PM
Bob Evans
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IBM India Creates Voice-Driven Sites Via Mobile Phones

IBM's research lab in New Delhi has developed technology that lets mobile-phone users create speech-driven web sites that can not only listen but also respond.

IBM's research lab in New Delhi has developed technology that lets mobile-phone users create speech-driven web sites that can not only listen but also respond.While IBM India's breakthrough could have intriguing implications for a wide range of applications - think of teenagers in the same room who communicate via texting - it could have a particular impact in India, where mobile-phone sales are booming, particularly among some poor people in rural areas, according to a news article in the Economic Times.

Because some of those poor farmers are unable to read, IBM said, voice-driven websites those people can interact with or even create via mobile phones could have huge value, the article said:

"People will talk to the web and the web will respond. The research technology is analogous to the internet. Unlike personal computers it will work on mobile phones where people can simply create their voice sites," IBM India Research Laboratory Associate Director Manish Gupta said.

In a recent Global CIO blog post, I noted that CIOs are in a great position to identify prospective growth opportunities by studying the unexpected but enormous market for mobile phones and related services in India's low-income rural areas. India's mobile-phone subscriber base climbed to 350 million in 2008, a study said, with 10 million coming aboard in December and 11 million projected for January of this year. Plus, IBM India's Gupta said 15 million more subscribers came on board in February.

Gupta added that in two pilot projects IBM India has conducted, the innovations users have come up with for these voice-centric sites have been "mind-boggling," the Economic Times reported. And that's precisely why leading CIOs are closely scrutinizing these types of market dynamics: they're looking to find unexpected growth opportunities in locations and with products and services that conventional wisdom says will never happen.

As an example, take a look at this excerpt from that blog post from last month and ask yourself if you and your team are truly keeping your eyes and ears open for unexpected possibilities, or if you've been lulled into thinking that the only prospects your company will ever have are the same ones it has always had:

Consider the story of Indian farmer K.T. Srinivasa, as told recently in The Wall Street Journal:

"While the way his family threshes rice - crushing it with a massive stone roller - hasn't changed for generations, his [new cell] phone has changed the way he farms. He uses it to decide when to plant and harvest by calling other farmers, to get the best prices for his rice, coconuts, and jasmine by calling wholesalers, and to save hours of time waiting on the road for deliveries and pickups that rarely come on time. "Life is much better with the cellphone," he said from a rice paddy in the shadow of the new [cellphone] tower.

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