An IVR Without the V

by Dave Michels

Voxeo acquires imified.

This is one of those things that is perfectly logical, but takes a moment to get your head around. This acquisition was initially described to me as IM meets IVR which is a bit mind bending. Voxeo provides technologies, products, and services around voice APIs. This type of business just didn’t exist in the not so distant past. Earlier this month, I mentioned Voxeo in a post in an attempt to describe them and their competitors. Voxeo provides a programming service, but not the programming.

My first job in telecom involved touch-tone registration at universities. It was a revolutionary concept – students could enroll in their courses via telephone. I can describe it much easier now than I could then – it was an IVR that translated digits to terminal emulation utilizing a screen scraper middleware application. The primary alternative to touch tone registration at this time involved a number 2 pencil. To create this miracle, we developed a special box that could understand touch tone digits. This box could also speak or more accurately play recordings such as “enter your student ID”. The box utilized proprietary hardware and software and lots of phone lines. Then there was the other screen scraping box (OEM) and of course the highly customized registration system the university used.

Today, things are different – you can rent the IVR from companies like Voxeo – they take care of those pesky phone lines, the play/record tools, and of course interpreting the DTMF. Instead of screen scrapers, Voxeo will send information over the web directly to the desired host adhering to standard or custom APIs for the desired programming environment. The model makes a lot of sense because SIP and various programming standards are making systems increasingly accessible.

But Voxeo had a problem. SIP and programming interfaces are a lot broader than IVRs; or voice in general. Today, kids are more likely to register for their courses via Twitter or SMS than touch-tones. So Voxeo went shopping and found imified. The IVR without the V. This technology allows users to create a custom application using bots accessible from AOL, Yahoo, Cisco/Jabber, Google, Microsoft, and SMS (presumably soon Twitter too). UPS could make a tracking bot that can be accessed from IM or United could make a flight status application accessed from SMS.

The web created a self service concept that vendors and customers appreciated. Why pay an agent to look up flights when customers prefer to do it themselves. Eliminating the intermediaries both increased service and decreased costs (not to mention improved accuracy). SMS, IM, and Twitter created a real time aspect to the web that email didn’t. Voxeo is addressing the need for real time self service environments.

These tools represent huge opportunities for unified communication applications; send an IM to an internal system to query inventory, check a part, close a ticket, update a time sheet, change a voice mail greeting. The concept of mashups – where multiple program queries to different systems create a new application are upon us.

Here is an off the cuff example; at my company we have a sick line that employees call to report sick days. It is basically a simple voice mail box that forwards the message to multiple managers. Recording the payroll information is still a manual process. We could create the application on Voxeo/imified. Employees would text the system and that would provide their identity, notify the managers of the absence and actually login to the attendance system and update the attendance record.

The example is unlikely for multiple reasons, but it illustrates the point – UC is about leveraging our communications technologies to do much more than ring, beep, or flash a light. Automated actions based on very specific criteria is where the opportunities exist. With Voxeo’s acquisition, their tools just got stronger – it is up to us to determine how to leverage this opportunity – and while technologies like voice mail and auto attendants were broadly applicable – the next generation or UC will be highly customizable.

Voxeo seems very strategic with their acquisitions. Last year the company bought VoiceObjects which offered similar voice technology in a server based solution. That purchase along with imified positions Voxeo for multi-device and multi-medium services and/or products to enable UC.