SAP to speech enable applications

On Wednesday SAP moved one step closer to voice-enabling its applications by signing a deal with VoiceObjects, a developer of voice application management systems.

VoiceOjbects Factory will integrate with the SAP Web application server and sit on top of the speech platform, rendering Voice XML, the industry standard voice markup language, on the fly. The VoiceObjects component generates VXML code just as HTML code is currently generated when a user changes page views.

"We render the required dialog at the time of the call," said Tiemo Winterkamp, vice president for strategy and market research at VoiceObjects.

Voice gives SAP another channel to offer its customers, according to Bill Byrne, director of the Voice Center at SAP.

By initially designing the applications for speech-- the user interface, flows, prompts and frameworks--prior to adding the VoiceObjects layer, SAP customers will have a standard way of adding a speech channel to their applications rather than having to fit one of many different VXML gateways into the SAP environment.

"Clearly, this gives SAP customers a standard way of building speech applications," said Byrne.

Bill Meisel, principal at TMA , a voice technology consultancy, said that to date many CRM and SFA applications are underutilized because of the burden placed on a sales force to keep them updated.

"Being able to call into the phone and enter data just after you leave a customer's office or get updates while on the road without having to find a hotspot or a wired connection will significantly help CRM and SFA achieve its goals," Meisel said.

Most of the major CRM vendors are expected to offer a similar voice component for their applications, according to Meisel.

Byrne said adding a speech channel was a must because its customers have already spent millions of dollars to access their applications using voice.

TellMe Networks Inc., a major speech technology infrastructure vendor has already garnered about US$100 million in sales to voice-enable company sites, according to Meisel.

However, a spokesperson for Siebel Systems Inc. said that it has had a voice solution for sometime and has not seen a lot of customer demand for it.

Salesforce.com was contacted but unable to offer a spokesperson.

Adding voice is a new challenge for IT, according to Meisel.

"IT has generally viewed telephony as somebody else's business but increasingly they are realizing that it is another media they have to support. They need to learn more about telephony and sort out the options in supporting the telephone."

The complete speech platform will be ready in the 2005 timeframe, said Byrne.

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