Voice technology is heating up.
According to Mark Dessommes, channel manager for LXE Inc., Norcross, GA., voice-enabled hardware is expected to grow 33 percent every year, over the next five years. The primary motivating factor for this growth is that it's becoming cheaper to use voice technology in the warehouse.
"This is not just for the big companies that can invest millions of dollars," says Marceline Absil, vice president, marketing and sales, Top-VOX Corp., Geneva, IL. "Even those companies that only have five or 10 operators can now afford voice and use it to see an increase in productivity."
According to Absil it has become an investment that will allow smaller companies to see a return on their investment in as little as six to seven months.
Why have the prices come down? According to Scott Yetter, CEO and president of Voxware Inc., Lawrenceville, NJ, there are a number of trends that are making it possible for companies of any size to adopt voice.
"There's an open hardware approach now. It used to be you had to buy a special device to do voice. Now it's being supported by the major hardware manufacturers such as Motorola and LXE," he explains. "Now that customers have a choice of what type of hardware they can buy, the cost has come down."
In addition, the software that is running voice applications has changed dramatically. Yetter says that the market has matured to the point where vendors are offering packaged software solutions-off-the-shelf products are always less expensive.
"Before, everyone thought that everything had to be done as a highly-customized solution-you had people writing their own payroll systems, their own general ledger systems, their own manufacturing systems and the same thing was true with voice," Yetter explains. "However, over time, all those things became pieces of packaged software that you could buy off the shelf. I don't think the voice market is any different."
Rather than offering custom solutions to its customers, Voxware is offering a configurable package that is easier for its customers to maintain and operate on their own. The solution has a configuration engine that enables customers to build their workflows, not by changing the actual underlying code, only the configuration itself.
"We will go in and ask them to explain their workflow and then to define their requirements. Then we configure the product and deliver it to them," Yetter explains. "We've had customers go live in as little as three weeks. In the old days, it used to take us three-to six-months to deliver a voice solution. When you're writing code over-and-over and then testing it, it takes time."
The problem with formulating a custom business solution is that it is a snapshot of a company's business on the day that the solution is created. Once a business process alters, changes have to be made in the software.
"I don't know of anyone whose business doesn't change. If it doesn't, they'd probably go out of business," Yetter adds.
These off-the-shelf voice solutions are dynamic enough that they can be reconfigured by end-users themselves. No knowledge of code is required. In fact, the proper person to reconfigure these systems is a business analyst who understands workflow processes within the company.
Solutions providers are also offering products with flexible IT architecture.
"Up until recently, voice providers had a limited choice of how their enterprise application was run," notes Larry Sweeny, the founder of Vocollect Inc., Pittsburgh. "If the program was only compatible with Microsoft SQL servers and a company embraced Unix and Oracle, it became a cost burden."
IT departments need a choice of operating systems and databases so that they will be able to adapt whatever they buy to their IT infrastructure and thereby maximizing the return on their investment. This is why Vocollect is constructing the underpinnings of its solutions so that they run on and adapt to any operating system or database. This makes the solutions easier to manage and provides a lower cost of ownership.