VoiceObjects: Phone App Servers for SAP

In a sign that a phone application server may be the next big trend in the enterprise build-outs, SAP is integrating VoiceObjects Technology's phone server technology into SAP NetWeaver. The move will enable users to use phones to access and update SAP applications. IDN speaks with VoiceObjects CTO about the SAP partnership, and trends for voice and phone apps in the enterprise.

Tags: SAP, Voice, Applications, VoiceObjects, Enterprise, Server, Technology,

In a sign that a phone application server may be the next big trend in the enterprise build-outs, SAP is integrating VoiceObjects Technology phone server technology into SAP NetWeaver. The move will enable users to use phones to access and update SAP applications. IDN speaks with VoiceObjects CTO about the SAP partnership, and trends for voice and phone apps in the enterprise.

Under a licensing pact, VoiceObjects phone application server will be included in SAP NetWeaver to speed deployment of voice-driven applications to work with SAP applications.

Voice-enabled applications use speech recognition to receive data and use computer-generated speech (i.e., text-to-speech) or audio recordings to deliver a response. Voice-driven apps could enable orders to be placed and tracked over the telephone by customers or company employees.

The VoiceObjects phone application server in NetWeaver lets voice-enabled apps be deployed without modification to backend SAP applications or the creation of new middleware. The technology includes media platform drivers to link SAP apps to most popular third-party IVR (Interactive Voice Recognition) systems, including from Avaya, Genesys, and Nortel.

"This arrangement enables easy deployment and maintenance of phone-accessible SAP applications in an enterprise-class fashion that is consistent with best practices in IT," said Daniel Hong, lead analyst at Datamonitor. "Business process analysts, rather than technical staff, will be able to manage these applications, which is a tremendous benefit. As other enterprise software application vendors follow suit, the use of the phone as a channel to enterprise applications should increase dramatically."

Defining a Phone Application Server
According to VoiceObjects, a "phone application server" is software that enables carrier-grade deployment and management of personalized, over-the-phone self-service applications. Generally, such phone application servers should have four key capabilities:

  • The ability to dynamically generate VoiceXML to create personalized dialogs with each caller at call-time, using information in an organization's CRM or other databases. [In customer service applications, the resulting caller-specific conversations provide opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell and higher rates of customer satisfaction and service adoption.]
  • An application execution environment to support remote management and monitoring of multimodal applications, online application maintenance for instant changes or rollbacks, and guaranteed high availability.
  • Web services that support easy integration between phone-based self-service assets and its enterprise IT assets. Such legacy assets can include CRM, ERP, and other SOA (service-oriented architecture) assets.
  • Multimodal phone applications support, including voice, video, graphics and text interfaces, allowing user-friendly interactive applications that are unmatched in the phone-based self-service industry.

    IDN speaks with VoiceObjects CTO Michael Codini, to learn more about their SAP partnership, and coming trends for voice-driven apps and "phone application servers" in the enterprise.

    Integration Developer News interview with
    Michael Codini, Chief Technical Officer
    VoiceObjects Technology

    TOPIC: Phone App Server vs. Telephony APIs
    IDN: How is the use of VoiceObjects different from some of the "Telephone APIs" that have been available for SAP R3 (and other apps) for some time?

    Codini:"Telephone APIs" have been around for a while but they have failed because of the high cost of voice application development. SAP saw this as a real technology barrier for their customers. So SAP selected VoiceObjects to lower the barriers and make voice access to SAP applications much easier to deploy.

    SAP selected VoiceObjects for three primary reasons. First, VoiceObjects makes it easy for SAP to support any VoiceXML IVR and speech technology, which are required infrastructure for voice applications.

    Today, VoiceObjects supports more than 100 different IVR and speech technology combinations. That means that SAP customers gain a lot of flexibility in their voice infrastructure choices right out of the box. Second, the VoiceObjects metadata architecture allows SAP to easily extend the SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer tools — used primarily for developing Web portals today — to now support voice applications development. Third, VoiceObjects has a great deal of experience in self-service phone portals allowing SAP to get to market more quickly.

    TOPIC: User Trends for Voice Services
    IDN: Given your association with SAP, what real statistics can you share about user trends in enterprise interest and use of voice applications and Web services?

    Codini: SAP customers today are gaining real and quantifiable benefits from early deployments of voice-enabled SAP CRM, HR, and employee self-service applications.
    Here are some early examples:
  • A customer call center increased daily [call volume] 60% using self-services for enrolling in payment programs.
  • An expense-reporting-by-phone application for 2,000 traveling associates reduced time-to-pay to 24 hours
  • A benefit-enrollment-by-phone application for 10,000 employees, enabled employees who don't use computers to access the benefit enrollment system
  • A job bidding/employment verification system [enabled mobile workers] to connect directly to the HCM system without PCs or mobile data devices.

    TOPIC: Enterprise Build-Outs for Voice, Telephone Services
    IDN: Your SAP partnership is with NetWeaver (and not SAP's R3 ERP products). What does that say about the role of voice in ESB or SOA build-outs?

    Codini: SOA is becoming more and more important to enterprises every day and now SOA is becoming central to voice applications. Here's why. SAP is integrating VoiceObjects into its NetWeaver middleware that is the foundation of SAP's current application product releases. And now SAP NetWeaver can seamlessly link voice access to business transactions through SOA.

    TOPIC: Is There Real Demand
    IDN: These voice apps all sound very interesting, but so did TAPI and Java-based telephony APIs more than 6 years ago. What signs do you see that these "interesting" solutions are truly in demand?

    Codini: What's hot is technology for over-the-phone self-service, not agent-assisted service. Over the last year, the key phone self-service standard called VoiceXML is seeing very wide adoption. And Dataquest shows VoiceXML adoption is growing 24.8% per year through 2009. VoiceXML combined with VoiceObjects is really gaining steam and allowing companies to apply Web-like interfaces over the phone - interfaces that are dynamic, personalized, and easy to maintain. This new technology allows companies like SAP to create elegant integrated development environments to make it much easier for companies to implement voice systems.

    TOPIC: Career Opportunities for Enterprise Voice Services
    IDN: With all the loudening buzz over telephony apps, what are the real career opportunities in voice for enterprise architects/devs? And, what skills should they have?

    Codini: Architects and developers should view SAPs recent announcements as a key milestone of applying standard Web technologies and VoiceObjects to new, modern voice systems. SAP developers will now be able to use standard SAP tools to extend new and existing SAP implementations. Skills in Java, XML, Web services, and application servers will also be in demand for these deployments. With more than half of all the voice response systems today supporting VoiceXML, demand for skills to administer older proprietary systems will be replaced by new requirements in the VoiceXML world.


    Michael Codini is a co-founder and CTO of VoiceObjects, responsible for defining the company's technology vision and strategy. Prior to joining VoiceObjects, Michael lead the consulting organization for MicroStrategy Germany and later coordinated the development effort as Senior Program Manager for MicroStrategy's Intelligence Server, their flagship business analytics product. Michael also worked with IBM in Big Blue's Data Warehouse group.