Recent advances in speech recognition and text-to-speech technology, along with Internet-based standards to drive voice applications, are revolutionising interactive voice response (IVR). It is now possible to point voice servers at HTML or VXML (voice XML) pages and use these pages as the application definition language to drive voice services. Companies locally and abroad are now offering voice ASPs - services that manage large voice installations and rent out capacity to clients. The question of whether to go the ASP route with your voice applications or buy these resources is more pertinent today than ever.
IVR technology is rapidly evolving and will continue to do so for several years. ASPs can justify ongoing investment in new technologies because of economies of scale but this may not be the case for your business. Most voice ASPs run speech recognition and text-to-speech (TTS) technology as part of their service, both of which are expensive and rapidly changing technologies. In addition VXML will only be a more comprehensive standard with the release of VXML Version 2.
An important ASP consideration is integration with your contact centre. Applications that require a high degree of interaction between the IVR and a contact centre agent are not suited to the ASP route because of interconnect costs until such time as voice over IP is unrestricted in South Africa.
Does your ASP have dialogue design and usability testing skills? Possibly the biggest pitfall of VXML- and HTML-driven voice applications is how easy it is to deploy a poor application. An HTML voice application can be launched in a day - with disastrous results! Dialogue design, logic flow, and intelligent error handling are more important than ever.
What about portability? VoiceXML is a standard: one of the advantages of working with a standard is that it permits portability. When working with a host, portability is part of your insurance policy: if your application is portable, you can pull up stakes and move it to another provider, or onto premise equipment, without too much trouble. VXML1-based applications will still require modifications if moved to an ASP running another vendor's software.
Can your host scale easily to handle more lines? With any newly deployed voice application you will have a basic idea of how much call traffic will be generated, but ultimately you will need a plan for scaling up to meet unexpected demand. Finally, you should be aware that there are many 'hidden' costs in deploying an onsite solution. These include staff costs, telephony infrastructure costs, as well as hardware, and software maintenance and upgrade costs.