By the middle of this year, callers to Telstra's directory assistance service will be asking for assistance from a computer.
The national carrier is in the midst of a rollout of Alcatel's Tosca Interactive Voice Response platform, which it expects will automate about 15 per cent of all calls to the service; the top 2000 frequently asked numbers.
The system, which has been rolled out in the southern states of Australia, is an expansion of Alcatel's switching solution with Telstra's operator-assisted service, and includes voice recognition software from Nuance.
The implementation of the service was started on December 8 2000 and will be rolled out in all Telstra directory assistance centres within six months.
Anne-Marie Bennett, public affairs manager for Telstra, said the system had been rolled out to a quarter of the centres across Australia.
"Telstra has regulatory requirements of how quickly we answer directory assistance calls, so we have to be sure that it is bedded down properly; the reason for the gentle rollout."
"The service will be used for popular numbers such as banks and airlines. If a customer asks for a bank, the system will have the intelligence to ask what branch and so forth," Bennett said.
"If the system does not recognise the name the customer asks for, an agent will hear the request through their headphones and put the number through without the customer having to repeat their request."
Bennett said since 1997, there had been a 400 per cent increase in online directory assistance requests.
She said calls to the telephone service have been dropping significantly over the past two to three years.
Ross Fowler, CEO for Alcatel Australia said: "It's very new technology and leading up to the beginning of the rollout, Alcatel and Telstra conducted several trials to iron out any wrinkles."
Alcatel said different services using the Tosca platform and Nuance voice recognition systems had been implemented in Switzerland.