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Nuance Talks Up Security, Savings

Speech technology specialist Nuance Communications launched a new software package Tuesday designed to help enterprise customers tighten the security of their customer service systems.

Nuance Caller Authentication (NCA) 1.0 identifies users by verifying voice characteristics before enabling them to conduct automated transactions or access personal information by phone.

Nuance said its voiceprint method is more secure than entering personal identification numbers through touchtone phones. PINs can be lost or stolen, while the characteristics of a customer's voice are unique.

Gina Carriere, Nuance's senior product marketing manager, told internetnews.com that NCA can appeal to several different industries.

"Financial services can use it in a standard call center; healthcare organizations can use it to give doctors and patients access to information; and insurance companies are looking at it to automate claims processing," she said.

In addition, any company with a service fleet could have employees call in to update company records on their last repair job, and receive their next assignment from the automated system.

NCA also features reporting software to help companies learn more about how their customers use the system so adjustments to the menu or options can be made. It tracks customer call frequency, attempts at fraud, enrollment status and verification.

In addition to bolstering security through voice authentication, Nuance said NCA will save companies money because call center agents won't have to handle PIN reset requests or ask customers questions to confirm their identities.

Nuance estimates that a call center handling 25 million calls a year can save about $3 million per year using voice authentication.

NCA is available now and pricing is determined by the amount of call traffic that's anticipated. It's based on the J2EE platform and VoiceXML 2.0, the programming language for voice applications, to make integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and database software easy.

The speech recognition market has been ballyhooed for years. Adoption has been slowed by technological limitations -- background noise, punctuation and grammar and accents have poses problems in the past. (Industry giant Lernout & Hauspie's bankruptcy at a critical time for the market didn't help matters either.)

But Menlo Park, Calif.-based Nuance, which has 1,000 customers on some version of speech recognition, believes the space is heating up.

"I think [enterprises] are ready for it now," Carriere said, noting that consumers are also getting more comfortable dealing with automated attendants.

So do others. Nuance competes against several others companies including Scansoft , which acquired Speechworks International last year.

In addition, Microsoft and IBM have devoted time and money to develop offerings for the space.