SimulScribe joins Canadian voice-to-text push

A service that transcribes and relays voice messages via e-mail or SMS seeks to address the inefficient communication platform that is the voice mail box, said the CEO and co-founder of a New York City-based vendor now offering this service to the Canadian market.

The technology translates voicemail into “the most efficient form of communication, which is text,” said James Siminoff of SimulScribe Inc.

The service can be particularly useful to the enterprise user who typically wastes an average of three hours per month checking voice mail messages, he said.

Furthermore, users can be more actionable on voice mail “versus before, you have to not only listen to it but you have to write the number down, call the person back.”

The service previously offered in the U.S. unifies multiple phone lines – work, cell, home – into one unlimited voice mail box, said Siminoff.

Earlier this week, Rogers Wireless announced it had partnered with U.K.-based SpinVox, a provider of a similar voice to text transcription technology.

The concept is but one feature set in the broader unified communications trend observed among enterprises that seeks to unify channels of communication, said Tony Olvet, vice-president of communications and segments research with Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada. “It’s another arrow in the quiver of providers, whether service providers or product companies, to allow for other modes of communication.”

Despite this, enterprise adoption may be tricky considering it’s a novel mode of dialogue that requires a shift in user behaviour, in this case for the recipient of the message, said Olvet.

Besides the necessity for users to retrain themselves around the new communication method, another challenge to adoption will be IT managers and users assessing whether they can actually use the technology within the enterprise, said Michelle Warren, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group.

Olvet added there are also considerations around the cost of the package, support and integration.

The service relies on secure transmission of messages from voicemail to text, said Siminoff, adding the weakest link in the security chain would be the recipient’s inbox if it’s not properly secure. The company’s current enterprise customers, he insisted, don’t consider the service an added security threat.

According to Siminoff, the transcription is 95 per cent accurate, with the remaining inaccuracy consisting largely of names of people and places. Given that voice recognition technology works, in part, by predicting what’s going to be said next, he said, phrases and sentences that typically follow structure are easier to recognize.

Speaker accents and loud background noise also contribute to the inaccuracy.

When a term is not recognized, the system provides a phonetic representation accompanied by a question mark to alert the recipient, he said. SimulScribe’s goal around messages is for the user to never have to listen to voice messages, and in fact he said company statistics show that only one to two per cent of processed voice mails require the recipient to listen to the original message to discern the full meaning.

The accuracy of the transcription is going to be an issue for some users, acknowledged Olvet. However, he thinks the technology will fill “a very interesting role” in the way people approach voicemail.

Warren predicts that in two years, the technology should be vastly improved to account for these inaccuracies in transcription, in the same way that handwriting recognition technology offered by tablet PCs a couple of years ago will likely undergo a similar polish.

The technology, said Olvet, has deeper enterprise benefit because data in transcribed e-mails could potentially be fed into an organization’s CRM and ERP system, or status updates could be fed into project timelines.

Siminoff anticipates adoption will be highest among the “higher-end user” given the service isn’t cheap, but is ultimately useful to anyone with voice mail.

Currently, it’s only available for the English language, but the company anticipates offering it in French in the second quarter of 2008.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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