The City of Montreal is about to implement voice-recognition software that will allow its residents to pay bills and get municipal information over the phone.

The service, called 87-ACCES, is a VXML-enabled (voice extensible

mark-up language) system from Elix that mirrors the city’s Web site and provides similar information. Montrealers, for example, can obtain information about pick-up times for garbage and recycled materials. The solution is replacing an older, touch-tone-only version of the product which has been in place since about 1995.

“”On the Web presently, if you enter a postal code they will give you the information on what time the service will be rendered in your area. Now it will be available via VXML and speech recognition by phone,”” explained Elix marketing director Rita Azrak.

Citizens will also be able to pay parking and traffic tickets by providing their credit card numbers when prompted by the 87-ACCES automated service. Similarly, towed vehicles can be located by saying a licence plate number over the phone. “”Most of the time when you get towed you won’t have access to the Web (but) you will have access to your cellular (phone),”” said Azrak. “”This is a great example of offering the appropriate telephone service to the citizens . . . to get that information.””

The Elix system won’t displace the City of Montreal’s existing call centre, said its manager Marie-Claude Audet. It may actually help people who prefer to take advantage of services person-to-person. “”We will definitely still answer those types of calls, but the system will ease call centre traffic,”” she said. “”This system will help us answer more calls.””

Using VXML as a standard helps the city more closely replicate the experience of surfing the Web, said Elix VXML specialist Sylvain Gagnon. The information which is normally available on the Web page presented in HTML will now be in VXML and accessible by phone. VXML is the standard which defines the dialogue to get this information, he said. “”It’s like a standard IVR (interactive voice response) system, but instead of using a proprietary language it’s used via an XML language.””

VXML has become the de facto standard for many call centres, according Art Schoeller, an industry analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston. “”It has moved us towards a standard programming for these kinds of systems, for which there is an inherent benefit,”” he said. “”As we start to wrap all of our systems in an XML-enabled environment, my integration problem to go grab data to feed an IVR is a lot easier.””

VXML is based on a common standard, which allows for easy integration into back-end systems and Web sites, but Schoeller cautions that it’s not a panacea. It can be a useful tool to augment a Web site, but can’t replace it “”because people don’t build the

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