We weren’t invited to SpinVox’s technology demo on Tuesday morning, but we didn’t take offence; honest. The reception sounded like an effort to woo mostly bloggers, complete with pastries and minibuses, to get them to think positive thoughts about the company. Did it work? Here’s what happened at the gathering, care of Guardian.co.uk’s Kevin Anderson.
Embattled voice-to-text provider SpinVox demonstrated its technology to counter claims that its reliance on call centres was hampering its ability to grow. SpinVox’s chief information officer, Rob Wheatley, led journalists through a detailed explanation of the technology not only behind the voice recognition but also an application called Tenzing that speeds the transcription by operators at call centres. Company representatives declined to say what percentage of calls were sent to human operators.
Wheatley said that the percentage varied widely based on the carrier and also how much data was contained in the automatic speech recognition and natural language processing databases. However, he did say that in some instances, 100% of calls needed human intervention, although the figure was expected to decrease over time as the system gathered more data from the carrier.
Journalists were shown the call-processing queue and also an employee using the Tenzing application after the system determined that it lacked confidence in the quality of the automatic processing.
The question isn’t whether Spinvox uses call centres to aid the transcription process but whether the system is sophisticated enough to limit the human intervention to as little as possible in its new markets. That is critical to meeting its growth targets of five-fold revenue growth, which Spinvox’s chief executive, Christina Domecq, said were key to the company being “cash positive” by the fourth quarter of this year.
Investors have extended it £15m in emergency funding. In predicting that the company would be making money by the fourth quarter of this year, she said that the company had included several contigencies. The company is currently involved in legal action with former suppliers over payment issues stemming from what Domecq said were quality-of-service issues. There are no legal disputes with current suppliers, and it is continuing to pay its bills.
Domecq told paidContent:UK (part of the ContentNext Media network, which is owned, like the guardian.co.uk, by Guardian Media Group) the company would scale from a capacity of 30 million up to 100 million users “within 90 days”. Domecq said Spinvox’s competitive advantage was its speed to market, and described its growth strategy as a “land grab” and establishing itself aggressively in new markets.
The demonstration showed that under ideal conditions the automated transcription system could turn around a message in about four seconds, but without clear numbers about the percentage of calls needing human transcription, it is almost impossible to gauge whether the company can scale to meet its aggressive targets.