Bell Canada expects to shave up to $6 million off its workforce management expenses using voice technology to authenticate its field technician’s IDs.

Serge Lafleur says the phone company’s experiment with Nuance Verifier 3.0 has gone swimmingly. So much so, Bell began rolling out Verifier to

its field technicians in Québec and Ontario in early October.

Lafleur, senior project manager for Bell Canada’s business solutions engineering group in Montréal, says the software enables Bell’s field technicians to speak into any phone or wireless device to enter and send customer installation and/or repair information in real-time to Bell’s workforce management system.

“”For our field technicians to get their workload complete, they’d have to connect a PC in order to send and view the necessary information, but of course that proved to be difficult at times,”” he says. “”You also have to consider the economic value of (supplying) computers to more than 3,000 technicians. So we tried PDAs (personal digital assistants) but they have their limitations. We then thought speech recognition software would be the way to go, as it was already being used in other areas of our business.””

The software is designed to authenticate each field technician’s voiceprint, enabling them to report customer data quickly. Lafleur says Bell is impressed with Verifier’s flexibility and its reliability.

“”By our estimations, nine out of 10 technicians said they preferred the speech recognition technology to our traditional approach,”” he says. “”We initiated the program last January, and we did the pilot last March. Our conclusions proved that the concept was viable.””

Speech verification technology is enjoying some popularity in Canadian enterprises, but it’s not necessarily the best security technology on its own, says IDC Canada software analyst Alister Sutherland.

“”Voice authentication is part of a new wave of biometric technologies that’s picking up steam,”” he says. “”It’s often used in conjunction with other biometric technologies such as fingerprinting or retinal scans, but its (effectiveness) is a matter of how the application is used.””

The most effective scenario for authentication technologies would be to use them in tandem, says Sutherland. He also cautions that using voice authentication over the phone could present a lot of problems.

“”The fidelity on a phone system is not very high, so it could be possible for trouble to occur,”” he says.

Though the market is still in its infancy, Sutherland says Nuance has emerged as a market leader. And though in the current economic climate many companies aren’t spending money on these types of technologies, he expects to see increased adoption of authentication technologies in Canadian businesses.

Verifier eliminates the frustration of having to remember different PINs and passwords, says Matt Keowen, marketing director for Menlo Park, Calif.-based Nuance.

“”This is a field-proven product that delivers reliable, cost-effective security in a manner that is not invasive to people,”” he says.

The software analyzes and records the physical qualities of the user’s voice to verify their identity. The physical qualities of an individual’s voice can’t be altered by a cold or rendered by another voice.

“”Voice printing, from a security standpoint and from an ID standpoint, is on par if not better than, finger printing,”” says Keowen.

Lafleur says the deployment of Verifier was straightforward and Bell completed the integration without any major difficulties.

“”It was not difficult to implement at all as the application is XML-based and our system is based on a standard MQ Series interface,”” he says. “”The most difficult aspect of it was the coding of business rules behind the application, but not the actual application itself.””

The savings will be realized through redeployment of call centre agent, reduction in lease payment for PCs and reduction in SecurID cards, says Lafleur.

He adds that because of its ability to reduce costs, Lafleur expects the company to introduce Verifier in other areas of its operations.

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