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PostPath Acquisition and the Cisco Collaboration Platform

Post by Doug Dennerline, SVP, Collaboration Software GroupCommunications, globalisation and automation have flattened the world and transformed the competitive landscape. The traditional competitive advantages of size and scale have been replaced by speed and flexibility. In this new world, effective, adaptive collaboration is critical to achieving sustainable competitive advantage. Today’s acquisition of PostPath is part of our commitment to create a comprehensive cloud-based collaboration platform. By offering an on-demand version of the PostPath solution, we can provide flexible, cost-effective email and calendaring integrated with our collaboration portfolio of Cisco Unified Communications, WebEx and Business Video. PostPath’s Linux-based email, calendaring and collaboration solution is highly secure and scalable, and incorporates an innovative Web 2.0 architecture to meet the requirements of enterprise customers and small businesses. It’s interoperable with many different email solutions, offers an AJAX web client and is compatible with a broad range of mobile devices.We’re excited to welcome the PostPath team to Cisco and look forward to working together. For more information, I encourage you to listen to this podcast from Cisco’s Alex Hadden-Boyd, www.cisco.com/go/arpodcasts

Sweet Talk : Cisco and Speech Recognition

Note: Part two, continued from yesterday’s post.Cisco believes that in order for our customers to embrace and fully leverage speech recognition, the technology must offer both solution intelligence and a simple and natural user interface.Solution IntelligenceWe do not speak as clearly and consistently as we think we do, making solution intelligence a necessary part of a successful speaker interaction experience. Our speech is filled with pauses, repetitions, partial words, and slips of the tongue, complicating the speech recognition process. Researchers have been working for years to improve the algorithms and language models that are used to create increasingly intelligent speech engines, and the results are encouraging. Cisco is actively building upon the recent advances in solution intelligence to design speech recognition solutions that can understand and interpret our everyday words and speech patterns.A Simple And Natural User Interface How will Cisco”train” people to interact with speech engines? The key is the user interface, which provides the dialogue you hear (“œWho would you like to reach?”) and the manner in which you interact with the solution to determine what action you really intend (“œDid you mean Jim Smythe?”). Cisco is developing speech solutions that use straightforward, natural questions to elicit clarity and intent from end users. There is also intelligence built into the interface -not just the speech engine -so that callers can learn over a short period of time how to interact with the speech recognition system. Conversely, the speech interface has the intelligence to alter prompts in order to slow down and provide more guidance to the user, or speed up the interaction process for more advanced users. By making it clear what we’re supposed to do and say, a well-designed user interface allows us to navigate a speech recognition solution without the safety net of a human backup on the other end of the connection. A key part of Cisco’s strategy is to recognize what speech technology can realistically deliver to customers and therefore avoid many of the mistakes made by other vendors who tried to do too much with speech technology.Speech Recognition In Action TodayCisco’s most recent entry into the world of speech recognition is Speech Connect for Cisco Unity, which is a speech-enabled auto attendant feature of Cisco’s Unity unified messaging solution. This feature allows both internal and external callers, using only their voice, to be quickly connected to any employee in the company directory. The caller is prompted with”who would you like to reach” and responds by speaking a name. Speech Connect works because it has a very simple user interface built on top of the speech engine. Adam Goldberg, Cisco Product Sales Specialist, says”Speech Connect really lays the foundation for ‘speech as a network service’. As we extend that service across all of Cisco UC, our customers will be the true beneficiaries of our ubiquitous approach.” Try it the next time you call a colleague at Cisco by dialing 408-894-3500.In the contact center market, Cisco has been fine-tuning its speech recognition products for years. The Cisco Unified Customer Voice Portal (CVP) allows organizations to develop personalized self-service over the phone, letting customers efficiently retrieve the information they need from the contact center. For example, name and address changes are easily done with a speech interface while they are nearly impossible using touch tones. Additionally, Cisco Unified IP IVR allows organizations to develop additional speech-based customer service applications. These solutions allow our customers, such as Nestle Waters, to develop the appropriate user interface to improve speech-enabled customer service.”We’re able to offer a much more personalized service to our customers by incorporating speech recognition into our self-service platform,” said Kurt Mey, national technology manager for Nestle Waters North America, Inc.”Customers are able to complete their transactions in a much more natural, conversational manner than they could ever do in a touch-tone environment.”The Future of Speech RecognitionTechnology groups throughout Cisco are rapidly innovating to add speech recognition to the Cisco Unified Communications portfolio of products. Speech solutions are being incorporated into existing unified communications applications, embedded into the company’s Integrated Services Routers (ISRs) for branch offices, made part of the Cisco Unified Application Environment in order to allow developers to integrate speech services in a variety of applications, and enhancing the customer service experience we offer in our customer contact solutions.Ultimately, Cisco will transform the user experience throughout our portfolio of unified communications solutions. For example, a speech interface could serve as your assistant, prompting you with”You have a MeetingPlace meeting in 10 minutes, would you like me to call you and connect you then?” and you can simply reply,”yes.” If you are running late, you could say”I’ll be ten minutes late” and an instant message will be sent to the participants with that notification. The speech assistant could also allow you to create ad hoc conferences by simply speaking”add” and then speaking the person’s name. Speech-to-text features could take your communications a step further, allowing you to speak into a communications client and have your conversation transcribed into a text message or email for delivery to a colleague or business partner. A”command and control” unified communications speech interface would provide the functions you need at the time you need them by knowing your calendar, your presence, your contacts and your devices.Speech is the most basic and natural human interaction -it connects us all. That’s why Cisco’s vision of the future involves the use of speech to command and interact with our communications applications and devices. Cisco’s goal is to design speech interactions with the user in mind, reducing frustration and confusion, while enhancing productivity and delivering a solution that works in a natural and effective manner.by Mark Gervase, solutions marketing manager, Cisco Unified Communications

Sweet Talk : Cisco and Speech Recognition

Note: This is the first of a two-part post.Today we conduct business around the clock and around the globe using seemingly infinite combinations of phones, voice messaging, e-mail, instant messaging, and video conferencing. As unified communications solutions integrate software, phones and computers, speech recognition promises to play an increasingly important role in the way we communicate, freeing our hands to let us control our experience with spoken commands instead of memorized, menu-driven clicks, keystrokes and button pressing. Yet, for all the promise of speech recognition, the technology has left much to be desired -until recently. One of the reasons that speech recognition solutions have failed in the past is that society has not developed a usage paradigm for a pure speech-based interaction with artificial intelligence. For example, when we call a speech-enabled customer service help line, we are not completely”trained” on the process, or paradigm. We are used to saying basic identifying information, such as an account number, and then prompted to say”balance,”"transfer,” and similar commands because we do not know the specific words to say to this particular speech interface in order to check a balance. Sometimes we must navigate a system of menus and provide additional information to allow the system to better handle our query, but if things get complicated, we exit the speech session and talk to a real person to solve the problem. However, what happens when there is no person on the other end of the line acting as a safety net? Do we state our specific problem or do we provide some background information first? And if the system doesn’t understand us, do we repeat our statement or do we need to rephrase it? What are we supposed to say and how are we supposed to say it? This lack of a consistent and simple user interface is the second major reason that speech recognition solutions have failed to gain widespread traction.Cisco believes that in order for our customers to embrace and fully leverage speech recognition, the technology must offer both solution intelligence and a simple and natural user interface.by Mark Gervase, solutions marketing manager, Cisco Unified Communications

Flash Collaboration

By Alan S. Cohen, vice president, enterprise/mid-market solutions”œInstant karma’s gonna get youGonna knock you off your feetBetter recognize your brother’sEveryone you meet”- John LennonIn my past few blog entries, I speculated on how new and different forms of collaboration impact the business world. With the release of the new iPhone, I am amazed not by the device (although it is impressive), but rather by the creation of an application marketplace within the iTunes environment Apple calls the”app store“. By forming a rapid development and commerce environment for iPod/iPhone owners and thousands (perhaps millions) of creative software developers -including a Wiki environment for user ratings -Apple dramatically dropped the barriers between a classic publishing model and an eBay-like marketplace model.What if we could do the same thing for work? How long would it take for meaningful units of work to surface and be completed? What if a secure online marketplace, within or across companies, could accelerate the speed of collaboration, effectively creating a market-led environment for projects versus the traditional command and control structure for work?M.I.T. Professor Tom Malone, author of the book The Future of Work, is one of the best cartographers of changing workplace dynamics, mapping the shift from command and control to collaboration. In his book, he described 4 kinds of emerging work styles: - Loose hierarchies, - Democracies, - External markets, and - Internal marketsIn Dr. Malone’s research, technology is the enabler of these work styles, but human characteristics and values dictate how workplaces come together: what we at Cisco would call a technology architecture juxtaposed beside a business architecture.I had the distinct pleasure of sharing a soda with Tom earlier this week. We discussed another work architecture: what I call”flash collaboration,” the notion that a work team could come together, across company or cultural boundaries, to rapidly complete a task or project, and then dissolve, within days, even within hours. In essence, flash collaboration is a nearly frictionless environment resulting in a tangible product or service. From Tom’s research, it is clear we are seeing this work style emerge. He cites InnoCentive as an example of a breakthrough innovation and collaboration marketplace where thousands of researchers and inventors come together to solve business and technical problems. As stated in the company’s mission statement:”InnoCentive will change the world and influence the lives of people everywhere by applying our planet’s human creativity and intelligence to solving the most important challenges facing commercial, governmental, and humanitarian organizations today. By combining technology, economic incentives, and human ingenuity, we will address and resolve these problems better, faster, and cheaper than ever before possible.”Indeed it was only five years ago that the first “œflash mob” was organized to bring groups of people to staging areas in a city. At the time, the messaging capability of a cell phone was all it took. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_mob. Participants were sent to locations around Manhattan and then given various instructions on the next set of actions.It turns out the idea of flash collaboration may not even be that surprising. A year after the first flash mob assembled in New York, a group of people on the other coast created the first flash mob computing environment focused on harnessing a temporary clustering of computers to form a single supercomputer. Rather than a cell phone network, a social networking and news site for our industry, Slashdot, provided the vehicle for bringing hundreds of computers into a powerful virtualized machine.So the antecedents for Flash Collaboration are very strong.I also discussed this concept with Amy Shuen, an economist, college professor and prolific chronicler of the emergence of Web 2.0. She provided additional insights: 1. Flash collaboration could be a kind of instantaneous catalyzing of knowledge incorporated in the heads of a large number of people to quickly master/achieve a mission-critical task or problem. 2. Potentially, flash collaboration is a faster or instantaneous triggering of collective (and interactive, dynamic) behavior of decentralized nodes through a Web 2.0-enabled platform. Additionally, this triggering of collective behavior might follow Web 2.0 and ‘wisdom of the crowd’ concepts and independently aggregate information algorithmically, refining input so that the outcome would be value-multiplied/enhanced.In essence, Flash Collaboration is a work environment that includes the tools and technologies to support spontaneous work teams with clear business results. Is your company ready for Flash Collaboration? If not, in the words of John Lennon, it might just”knock you off your feet.”by Alan S. Cohen, vice president, enterprise/mid-market solutions

The New Telecommuters: Where are you going?

As the buzz around skyrocketing fuel prices and travel costs continues, it’s no secret that business people continue to turn to telecommuting as a viable alternative to offset costs and carbon emissions. As CIO.com profiled this week, companies like Chorus are allowing their entire workforce to work remotely, sparing employees from the hassle of costly commuting. And after saving over $400,000 a year, who could blame them? As Chorus demonstrates, more companies are realizing that remote training and knowledge transfer can be achieved using collaboration tools. Not a bad option when gas prices are almost hitting $5 a gallon in some U.S. cities. But businesses aren’t the only ones hopping on board the trend, as reported on by the Associated Press this week. We are seeing that lately, a new generation of telecommuters has begun to take shape, as travel costs have fueled a substantial boom in the number of students who are now telecommuting to class. According to the AP, a growing number of students are feeling the pinch of high fuel costs on their budgets, and are enrolling in online classes in record numbers. Work and school aside, where else can we leverage telecommuting to reduce the need for costly travel? As noted by CNNMoney.com this week, waiting until 2010 when the market recovers is a long time away -so where else can the technology take us when we need to offset our carbon emissions and find ways to cut travel costs? Well, it may not be all that useful to telecommute to your summer vacation in Bali, but it will be interesting to see what other destinations -other than school and work -that we can put on the map. Colin Smith, Dir., Public Relations, WebEx