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IBM Gives Voice to Customers

Spurring on its growth for Internet and telephony-based voice systems, IBM Tuesday rolled out a $10 million partner accelerator initiative for voice applications.

The strategy, with 110 partners and affiliates taking part, builds on Big Blue's Websphere Voice Server initiative brought to the table in June.

The play will help partners develop and deliver voice and speech solutions faster for the telephony, Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) and Web environments.

Manager of Product Marketing for the Voice Systems Division, Ed Zinnes, told InternetNews.com that voice-activated communications will be vital for the future of the Web.

"It used to be the standard that people would have to pick up the phone, dial, listen to a menu, and press 1,2,3 or whatever number to select their options," Zinnes said. "This technology, with the use of IBM's Voice XML tags, changes that. You could pick up the phone and order a book just by speaking. This is our natural language technology."

New customers include PFPC with Voice Integrators; Scotia Bank in conjunction with Avaya Communications; Plaza Associates with VoiceRite; KeyCorp in conjunction with Quality Call Solutions and Fastlink with Lagan Technologies. Other recent IBM telephony customers include Cable and Wireless and 12Snap.

Early customers approve of the Voice Server.

"AGENCY.COM has been working with IBM WebSphere Voice Server and has found it effective in linking non-traditional devices to Web-based applications," said Ritesh Patel, vice president of technology, AGENCY.COM. "

Patel said his firm used the Voice Server to create a voice XML application.

Zinnes also noted that the voice and speech technology can be used to decrease personalization in a positive manner. He cited the case of collections agency Plaza Associates, a new partner that has come to find that the voice technology is more appropriate than customer service representatives in handling potentially hostile customers.

"The hype hadn't been around, but now it's here," Zinnes said. "And, as processor power gets higher, costs will come down.

Zinnes also pointed out that while Big Blue has dabbled in voice technology for more than 30 years, never has there been a stronger call for such partner programs as IBM established Tuesday.

Some recent plays seem to bear Zinnes' claims of the rising popularity of voice technology out. For instance, media giant America Online Inc. nabbed voice recognition specialist Quack.com in August.

AOL had also invested in speech technology purveyor SpeechWorks earlier in the year.

IBM Tuesday also opened two voice middleware centers in Hursley, UK and in Gaithersburg, MD, USA and the integration of technical support capabilities for IBM DirectTalk, Message Center and WebSphere Voice Server into IBM's worldwide Developer Relations infrastructure, delivering pre and post-sales support to IBM partners worldwide.



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