Monday, October 15, 2007

Technology firms, Europe and speech recognition

One of the fascinating things for me is the gap between the US and Europe.

I don't mean hostility, but rather the cultural gap relating to how business is done and what is required. Cultural issues, selling techniques and so on are probably for another post, as are labour laws, but this cultural difference tends to be most apparent in technology.

I've worked with a lot of technologies and in call centre it can be a major problem if it doesn't fit local requirements. Obvious examples are data privacy requirements, out oubound dialling and do not call lists and so on.

Yet what I find bizarre is that one of the most obvious areas (speech recognition technology) is one where there is often very little localisation from major vendors. Microsoft Speech Server is a good case in point - only available in US English. IBM similarly offer Websphere Voice Server in fourteen languages, five of them European . That's better, but most of the European languages are only on the older platform (v4.2 on AIX) and doesn't cover many common European situations (e.g. Belgium, where you need French and Dutch or ideally Flemish). It's no wonder then that Nuance have such a large market share by comparison when they offer 44 languages & dialects, and 24 of them are European. Even more importantly, localisation extends (for example) to three types of German and so cover Swiss and Austrian German as well as the accent of the Federal Republic.

Now I don't wish to suggest that Nuance are masters of this, in my work with them, I've found there are things they could improve, but they have got one simple idea built into their strategy. If you don't do customer service in the local language you haven't a hope of even attempting to solve the softer cultural issues.

Put it another way - would you try to sell to major US firms in any langauge other than US English and expect to be successful?