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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 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. 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 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 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

Freedom from Your PC

Shortly after fellow-Canadian Douglas Adams published his acclaimed book”Generation X”, I ran into him at a party in Vancouver, British Columbia. I remember talking, not only about the book, but also its premise that Generation X society was about the dissolution of traditional themes-the nuclear family, the”fixed” home,”lifetime” employment. I remember posturing that Mr. Adam’s characters were pursuing a newfound freedom in a prosperous society-yet were isolated by their own pursuit of that goal. It was a conversation that influenced much of my own outlook on the world as well as has reflected my own experiences with my virtual family, my incredibly mobile lifestyle, and my own hopscotch through employment.For me the workplace has been rife with incredible experiences and wonderful people. What’s common to all these experiences is that they were dependent on a technology referred to as the PC. It was the hub for how we worked together. But now things are changing-and fast. I remember presenting to a group of investor bankers in 2000 who were more interested in the quakings of their BlackBerry pagers than my presentation. It is interesting that I remember their focus more than the content of my own presentation. As with the characters in Mr. Adams book, while the PC brought the gift of innovation and productivity, it also became a new barrier to communication and collaboration. How many times have you been involved in an email war that could have easily been resolved if you could just talk to the person. Or where you’ve sat in a meeting where people are so busy communicating with the outside world that they forget to communicate with the people in the room?It wasn’t until I joined Cisco that my conversation with Mr. Adams came full circle for me. Around me I was seeing constant dissolution. Cisco is remaking itself as a collaborative company where board and councils replace command and control. Where the mission statement is being replaced by twenty-three priorities. Office and cubicles are becoming flexible workspaces where people assemble virtually and physically to tackle the task at hand. And most importantly, we’re seeing the content of those workspaces chance dramatically. Printers, fax and copy machines-the legacy of the document era-are slowing disappearing. The mobile phone and the desk phone are blending. And most interestingly, the computer and email are becoming secondary to getting people together in real time and non-real time to collaborate. And this dissolution is giving us the freedom to become a more nimble, faster moving, higher performance company.As we think about American Independence Day, we think about”freedom” given to the world by the Founding Fathers of this great country. For me, this freedom is about pursuing my hopes and dreams without inhibiting others to also do so. At Cisco, I experience this freedom in being able to be the person I am, work where I want to work, using the tools I want to use. It is the freedom to develop my competitive advantage as an individual, not at the expense of others, but so that the strength of the teams and relationships to which I belong become stronger.Last year when Cisco created its second-generation vision for unified communications, we made a couple of important assumptions. We assumed the mobile phone was more important than the PC. We assumed that no one wanted more email. (Come on, someone disagree with me!) We built a vision where the best expertise from anywhere in the world could be brought virtually to the table without regard for device, operating system or network type. It was an expression of freedom-the freedom to choose. I’m proud to be working and living in the United States yet part of the global team that is delivering a vision where everyone, everywhere is included in the collaborative experience. Only when everyone is included in the discussion can we conquer the toughest issues that face us all. And many of those discussion will never involve a Chris Thompson, senior director of solutions marketing for Cisco Unified Communications

The Apple iPhone 2.0

With the recent introduction of the Apple iPhone 2.0, 35% of Fortune 500 companies have gratified Apple iPhone fans and signed up for the Apple iPhone 2.0 beta. The fact that Apple is now supporting enterprise-class security features such as Cisco IPSec VPN and WPA2/802.11x makes the business case for the iPhone even more compelling for companies with mobile workforces.Cisco’s vision for unified communications is to bring rich, compelling, and collaborative interactions to every workspace – independent of preferred device, operating system, or location. With that vision, we are excited about iPhone 2.0 for a couple of reasons. First, our goal is to extend a superior unified communications experience to as many business applications and devices as possible. In addition, through our open interfaces, provide our customers and partners with the ability to integrate Cisco Unified Communications with an even greater number of platforms and devices critical to their businesses. Since the iPhone seems destined to be a popular device, we are eager to provide our customers and partners with the most compelling unified communications experience possible on it. Second, as we have worked with the iPhone, we have gotten very excited by its programming capabilities. The robust operating system, powerful hardware, and great programming tools allow us to consider some exciting applications and experiences for the iPhone.Over the next year or so, I look forward to bringing a series of user experiences to our customers that combine Cisco’s open, unified communications solution with many of the devices people use including the iPhone. Our engineers are already demonstrating some compelling applications. I can’t wait to use Joe Burton, chief technology officer of Cisco’s voice technology group