Flashback to March 2006 – Pronexus Inc

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The San Diego beaches are sunny and inviting, but Andrew Kozminski, CTO at Kanata-based Pronexus Inc., took time from his travels to call me to discuss an interesting, high profile partnership. While he was on the road in southern California, company colleagues were in Barcelona, Spain at the huge 3GSM World Congress of telephony, where a Microsoft, Ubiquity and Pronexus demo was featured.

Emerging markets create large opportunities

Think back 20 years to the rapid growth of “1-800” numbers. As Call Centers became overwhelmed by call volumes the need for “customer self-service” was addressed by technologies such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. Pronexus responded to this market opportunity with their successful toolkit for software designers, “VBVoice” and positioned it as “…the only Rapid Application Development (RAD) toolkits for IVR and speech that blend a high level GUI and sophisticated programming in a .NET environment.” When Microsoft launched the Microsoft Speech Server (MSS) platform in 2004, long-standing partner Pronexus quickly released VBSALT, a toolkit for building speech applications on MSS.

A responsive, “Emergent Strategy” is needed – Now, fast forward to today. This kind of speech-enabled IVR interface is in a rapid growth stage, and speech recognition is taking center stage with call-in service examples from Rogers and Bell Canada (have you talked with “Emily?”). According to Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, during his Ottawa visit in December ’05, speech will become an everyday part of the user interface as GUI evolves to VUI (Voice-enabled User Interface). Telephony service providers are now looking to create innovative services and generate new revenue streams. Pronexus, through their Microsoft relationship, were invited to join with Kanata & Cardiff-based Ubiquity Software in the demo for the 3GSM event.

New markets create new value chains; be a participant – As VoIP and multi-media demand has grown and invaded the world of enterprise and telephony service providers, a new standard has emerged called Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). It ties together diverse applications and platforms, and helps products such as Ubiquity’s carrier class Unix server software called “SIP A/S” (SIP Application Server) to be quickly integrated with those from Pronexus.

A current example is the Bell ad featuring beavers riding escalators viewing Olympic events on their video-enabled cell phones; this kind of application is possible thanks to a SIP interface. SIP is also one of the elements behind the growth of VoIP telephony networks. As Kozminski commented, “SIP makes it all work together – a protocol that connects many platforms and applications, including VoIP systems. It has taken the world by storm over the last few years.”
During this evolution, Microsoft launched their Connected Services Framework (CSF), targeting the need for service providers to reduce deployment costs and time. They had, however, a need for telecom partners with industry experience in real life network applications. The two Ottawa companies had credibility in this target market – Ubiquity in their Unix server platforms, and Pronexus in their speech-enabled interface platforms. Working with them would provide an opportunity to demonstrate the potential of CSF. Hence “Microsoft asked Ubiquity and Pronexus to partner with them for a major demo at 3GSM – and we were happy to help!” commented Kozminski.

The result – a demo partnership – The demo application is called “I’m Lost”. It allows users to get directions to their next destination by calling the application. It solves the user’s problem using several tools – e.g. email, GPS, contact management software. It ties together several technologies and data sources – your next appointment (from your calendar) – your location (from GPS/GSM), directions to next appointment – using text-to-speech (TTS) plus voice control (e.g. it allows you to say “stop”, “go back”, “repeat” to clarify directions).

“The Microsoft goal is very targeted – show good technology and partners, with industrial credentials, so that service providers will consider the potential of their CSF development environment products,” commented Kozminski.

My conclusions – Keep profiling adjacent markets; their emerging players and partners could become an important part of your customers’ value chain. Your visibility and product roadmap need to adapt when your value chain evolves, especially if it merges with adjacent markets populated by powerful companies.

This article by Peter Fillmore, was originally published in SCAN – MARKETECH in March 2006.

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