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The Genesys of WebSphere Voice

Middleware specialist IBM and voice routing software maker Genesys Telecommunications Laboratory are working on a joint product to make call centers more efficient.

The self-service speech offering, available this summer, will allow customers to call and place an order, hear an inventory list or buy products without talking to a human or accessing a Web site.

It's one of the first tangible results, from a business perspective, of IBM's Super Human Speech Recognition Initiative, which was formed in 2002 to deliver conversational computing to businesses. One hundred researchers back up the project from Big Blue's eight labs.

Using the IBM-led standard for computerized speech, Voice XML , as well as other voice standards, the Alcatel subsidiary will integrate its Genesys Voice Suite 6.5 in IBM WebSphere Voice Server, Voice Application Access and Voice Toolkit.

The result, is conversational self-service, where customers can call up and say, "Move $10,000 from my 401K account into account 'b' " and get an answer using a combination of WebSphere apps and Genesys' voice software. It's technology that will change the role of call centers around the world, Brian Garr, IBM's program director for the contact center segment, said.

"It will change the role of the reps to more important transactions generating revenue," he told internetnews.com.

Initially available in English, Chinese and Japanese, officials from both sides plan to later incorporate more languages and support for the Media Resource Control Protocol, an up-and-coming standard for integrating voice recognition and text-to-speech.

Garr said other partnerships will be made this year; he wouldn't offer details. IBM has earmarked $10 million for a partner accelerator program to get vendors to hook up their software to its Websphere Voice Server.

Genesys is no stranger to IBM. In 2001, Genesys bought up IBM's CallPath technology, giving the two companies a solid technological common ground in their respective software platforms.

IBM's deal to include Genesys as their first partner also makes sense, given the telephony software maker's large library of application program interfaces for routing functions like private branch exchanges (PBX) and automatic call distributors (ACD) .

Using a voice application instead of a call center rep won't deliver huge savings in smaller companies, said Dan Miller, a senior analyst at the Zelos Group. But for large companies like telecom carriers Sprint and Telus, who deal with thousands of phone calls a day, the time saved will translate into savings.

"With high volumes, just saving two or three seconds by routing a call to the right resource, or a menu of options, saves millions of dollars," he told internetnews.com. "They've done their studies and they know there's cost savings to be had."