Lastminute.com Announces Voice Recognition Partnerships to create new Customer Portal

Further to its announcement earlier this month regarding the development of an interactive voice recognition system, lastminute.com, the provider of last minute solutions, has today announced a number of partnerships which will help to accelerate the introduction of this innovative customer portal:
* Syncordia Solutions, BT’s e-business and communications solutions unit, is working with lastminute.com and Nortel Networks to provide advanced technology to develop lastminute.com’s speech recognition platform. Syncordia Solutions has some of the most extensive and sophisticated skills in the engineering of large-scale portal platforms, and through its partnership with Nuance has delivered a voice-activated web browsing solution for the UK market. Combining the capability of the telephone network and the power of the Internet, this technology allows telephone users to browse the Web, conduct V-Commerce (voice-enabled e-commerce) and place telephone calls without touching the keypad. lastminute.com is working in partnership with Nortel Networks and Syncordia Solutions to ensure its web sites, in the UK and internationally, will become speech-enabled, with new features and applications introduced specifically for the new portal.

* lastminute.com has selected Nuance, one of the market leaders in speech interface technology, to supply the core speech recognition ‘engine’ for the project. This agreement will provide lastminute.com and its customers with the latest versions of Nuance’s leading-edge speech recognition and natural language understanding software. Nuance is one of the most influential players in the definition of emerging technical standards in this field and its involvement should help lastminute.com ensure that its voice architecture is best-of-breed in an industry where solutions and applications are evolving at a rapid pace.

* lastminute.com has also linked up with the Centre for Communication Interface Research (CCIR) at The University of Edinburgh to develop the speech platform. CCIR is the leading research centre in Europe dedicated to the study and refinement of emerging platforms such as voice, web, WAP and interactive digital television (iDTV).

CCIR will develop independent tests for lastminute.com to help evolve and enrich the customer experience of the voice recognition platform prior to launch.

lastminute.com believes its strategic development to create a new customer shopping portal by using voice recognition technologies to be a European first as no other European company currently has transactional voice capabilities in e-business.

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The voice recognition service should enable consumers to benefit from lastminute.com’s extensive product offering, even if they do not have access to online media. Ultimately customers will be able to choose to browse lastminute.com’s database by talking as well as clicking. Transactions will be made over the telephone without the need for an operator.

lastminute.com believes the new voice recognition system will help to broaden its customer reach and effectively create a new revenue channel.

Brent Hoberman, Chief Executive Officer of lastminute.com, commented:
“As part of our multi-platform strategy, we are working with the best blue-chip suppliers to build a scalable and flexible voice recognition system. We believe that this development will further strengthen lastminute.com’s position at the forefront of new technologies and enhance the convenience element of our customer proposition.”

Jeremy Stafford, general manager of the eCRM Solutions Division within Syncordia Solutions, said:
“Voice-enabling a web site extends the reach of the Internet to that segment of the population - at the moment up to 80 per cent - that currently don’t have access. This partnership with lastminute.com, Nortel Networks and Nuance fits in with Syncordia Solutions’ vision of providing broad access to the Internet and developing solutions for customers who are looking for a means of competitive differentiation in e-commerce applications.”


Nick Applegarth, MD of Nuance Europe, commented:
“Nuance and lastminute.com are inventing the future of retail sales. We are combining the convenience of Catalogue shopping with the simplicity that accurate speech recognition allows. Customers will be able to speak their orders just like they were speaking to a shop assistant. It will be easy and fun to use.”

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