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Speech Recognition Technology Gains Acceptance

On the CIO circuit, Barbara Layton, telecommunications manager of California's Marin County, recounts her case study to rooms packed with skeptics. It's not that Layton lacks credibility but that her subject, speech recognition technology, does -- or once did. But as she can tell you, the technology is improving all the time.

Over the past 12 months, Layton has installed an Avaya Inc. Speech Access server as well as an IP-based communications system from Avaya, including Avaya Communication Manager, Unified Communication Center 2.0 and Modular Messaging 2.0. These days, the county's 2,300 county employees can access email and calendars as voice messages from remote locations. And when residents call the county offices and say "dog," they can be transferred to an animal control officer rather than receive the latest report on "fog."

How did you ensure that your system would recognize any command?
It took quite an effort to get the database up and running. You can never underestimate the ingenuity of a human being. It's amazing the things people will come up with. One person asked for "Healthy Human Services"; they were looking for the Health and Human Services Department. In the end, we put about 10,000 search terms in there.

What was the response from the security folks?
Our server people were not happy about the fact that our speech access server is really like a super user. In the first meeting, they weren't paying attention because it's voice, and no one's interested in that, right? Then we got started, and one of my voice analysts says, "They won't give me permissions on the server." Now they've really come around. I actually bought a little split of champagne for all the server people, because they've facilitated our ability to quickly add new clients.

That's a huge help to us.

Do the politicians like it?
I have a lot of elected officials who didn't want to carry [personal digital assistants]. They're people people. They are used to talking, not typing. So this text-to-voice conversion works for them.

Ellen O'Brien, a former senior editor at CIO Decisions, is now a senior editor at Storage magazine. Write to her at

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