Make Yourself Heard in the New Millennium

In a recent column I wrote about the growth of IBM's Pervasive Computing division, which is rapidly bringing Web-enabled technology to appliances beyond the PC-appliances such as cell phones, TVs, automobile dashboards and even refrigerator panels!

Another example of that growth is IBM's just released ViaVoice Millennium product. ViaVoice, a continuous speech recognition tool, has been available for several years, but this latest version accelerates the transition from discreet speech--where-you-have-to-pause-between-every-word--to continuous, free-flowing speech. (It recognizes and can also translate a host of dialects and accents.) And it focuses more on the strategic relationship between speech recognition and e-business, (the future certainly is now).

IBM's ViaVoice project teams are stressing ease of use and accessibility for the consumer. They believe that it's time for voice technologies to come out from behind the niche curtain, and take center stage and they've emphasized that belief with a bold organizational move this summer. The ViaVoice team formally merged with IBM's Software Group and began making a permanent home within IBM's e-business strategy. Another sign that emerging technologies have become today's necessary and relevant technologies.

While the competitive space in speech recognition products is rapidly becoming crowded, give IBM credit for not racing to put its voice products on the shelf first, no matter what the cost. The company continues to fund extensive public surveys, to hear from the customer on the street. "We're taking the time needed to ensure the highest accuracy rating," said Anne Marie Derouault, director of strategy and alliances for IBM speech systems. "In that regard, the competitors will have to catch up to us."

They'll have to catch up on another front as well: 70 percent (some say that figure is higher) of the world's data is stored on IBM servers! That means there's an incentive to make information conversion as painless as possible.

IBMers use expressions like "conversational interfaces," and "voice in, Web out" to mean that you can speak a command to your computer and it will respond. On tap is a plan to improve consistency across appliances. So, for example, you can verbally dictate a bank transaction using your laptop and later confirm that information on your Web-enabled cell phone. There are also plans to create voice enabled Web page design, or Voice Driven Markup Language.

Think about the changes speech recognition technology will bring to our day-to-day transactions. We'll surf the Web by voice. We'll talk in chat rooms, send e-mails, and bring up our latest bank transactions--all by using our natural voice with no pauses. Isn't it amazing that as recently as the 1980s, PCs were just starting to appear in our homes?

Yet there's another, perhaps less obvious boon--ViaVoice products advancing an IBM coopetition strategy, an industry phenomenon I've written and talked about for several years: In July, IBM and Apple introduced a ViaVoice for Macintosh users. This joint venture speaks to IBM's investment in its business partners and market competitors such as Apple and Intel.

Another example is InTouch Systems' (Cambridge, Mass.) May announcement that it plans to use Big Blue's ViaVoice telephony speech recognition technologies in its Inflection voice portal software platform. Together, these two products enable wireless and Internet service providers to offer messaging capabilities to remote and mobile workers. As the use of voice technologies spreads beyond our home and office PCs, this need for coopetition "in action" will become critical.

The launch of the ViaVoice products represents integration by IBM in two ways--internally, by the division's merger with the software group, and externally, by its strategic business partnerships. A flurry of other ViaVoice releases are due out over the next several months which can only be good news as we enter the new millennium. Let your mind imagine the possibilities!