iThink: “Thought to Text” Technology

I have been struggling, for years, with getting speech-to-text working in a usable way.  About every two years over the last ten, I go out a store, excited, and buy the most recent voice recognition software. I’m always hoping for a break-through.  I’ve tried various versions of ViaVoice and Dragon Dictate. Dictation programs typically require you to read a few paragraphs to train them to your voice.  Other than that, they are fairly easy to use. For the PC and Mac, voice recognition programs have reached an acceptable level of usability.  Today, I can talk and dictate to my computer much faster than I can type.  In fact, this article is being dictated to my Mac on a plane ride from San Francisco to Minneapolis.  It seemed appropriate.

Social graces.

The guy next to me on the plane looks annoyed.  I am using a wired microphone to dictate this story.  Ok, now he is smiling.  He is enjoying the irony.  However, every time I say “period” to end a sentence the woman on the other side of me looks at me…

(Completing this article by typing)

“With Contempt”  is what I was going to say, so I decided to start using the keyboard.  Conservative, tightly wound person that probably thinks iPods are an evil plot.

The reality:  voice recognition, even if it works, does not fit into the social construct of the plane ride, the coffee shop, the bus, the subway, in fact any mass transit system.  It is a solitary endeavor OR completely annoying.  Want to try a fun experiment?  As voice becomes more commonplace in interfacing with devices…when you see someone talking out loud to command to their phone try this:   In a loud voice say  ” A B C 1 2 3″  and make sure it is loud enough for the mic on their phone to hear.  It works and totally screws up the voice recognition. Fun.

Vlingo on my iPhone

While I mentioned Vlingo on my iPhone, I did not mention that it does not work for me.  I am not a voice recognition expert, but I know that the processing power of mobile phones is not at the level of my new Core i7 MacBook (yeah.. it screams!)   In Vlingo’s defense, if you articulate well and speak slowly, it is good for sending text messages and single line emails in a quiet environment.  But it is not as good as laptop or desktop, and that is frustrating.

Don’t drink the Software-As-A-Service Kool Aid

Prediction:  Cloud-based service for Mobile Voice Recognition is a bad direction.  Even in a connected world, there are many places where you do not have either a cell or network connection.  Does it work today?  Sometimes.  However, when voice recognition really works for mobile, it will have to be native and a core function with 100% availability.  SaaS cannot offer that.  I am really surprised that Steve Jobs added the voice command into the iPhone  (Not a SaaS implementation, so they got that piece right). They usually don’t ship stuff that works  50% of the time.  Apple should have tested it in my Jeep.  If you follow the laws of computing, in about 10 years, mobile devices will be able to process voice as good as a desktop/laptop of today.  This will be a convergence of technologies, just like when the evolution from the iPhone to the iPad.  Voice commands will make more sense on the mobile device, just like some applications make sense on the iPad vs. the iPhone due to larger form factor.

What does this mean for technology affecting culture?

It can go in four directions.  First, think:  Do you remember the first time someone had a cell phone conversation, close to you, in a confined space?  How about the first time someone sat in the stall next to you and had a loud cell phone conversation?  How will you react when you are in close quarters and people are talking to their phones, dictating and email, text or tweet?

Direction 1: It will isolate people.  Socially unacceptable,  therefore people will withdrawal to a more quiet location to talk to their phones.

Direction 2: The older folks like me will lose the social acceptable battle.  The younger generation will be texting, emailing, Tweeting and “voicing” and if we don’t like it, we can  put on noise canceling head phones.

Direction 3: The advent of sub-audible microphones.  Arthur C Clarke, one of the true thought leaders talked about this in several of his books.  Basically, imagine a tooth implant that could pick up “throat noises”.  These sounds would not be heard external to a person’s body.  The sub-audible microphone would pick up the sounds and transmit to a mobile device.  Everyone could happily be talking, Tweeting, emailing, or Voicing on the same subway car without every bothering a soul.   Technology done right is elegant.   Early versions of the microphone could be placed on the neck.  No need to go running off to the Dentist just yet.  Direction 3 is my prediction.

Direction 4: Something no one has thought of yet.

Implications?

If everyone is using sub-audible microphones,  there will be privacy issues.  If someone whispers and you hear it, are you invading their privacy?  Ethically yes, but legally, no.   There will be devices that unscrupulous people will employ to invade privacy.   There will be outrage, backlash and then an attempt at regulation.  While interfacing with mobile devices via sub-audible,  I predict that people will develop their own private vocabulary, like a password or macro to communicate securely with their devices.

Stepping stones to a strange new world

1. Seamless Voice recognition, native to mobile devices  (8-10 year)
2. Sub Audible microphones  (technology is here now)
3. Social acceptance          (who knows)

I started this whole article as a mind-walk towards the concept of “think to text”.  With sub audible mic’s, you can sometimes tell if someone is talking, because they will move their lips out of habit.  The younger generation that grows up on it will not.

So what about “think to text”?  I have no idea.  The headsets that are supposed to measure brainwaves and sell for about $200 and are pure crap. Don’t waist your money, they don’t work.  Based on the state of technology, a system that could recognize words you think is way off.

Waiting in line for the  iThink

On the other hand, I will be guy in line, every 2 years, excited, buying a new iThink…and hoping.

Note:  The man next to me on the plane ride was a software engineer.  We had a great conversation.  Bill:  great to meet you!  It helped to talk through the scenarios.  The woman next to us was a 4 term politician.  Thought we were crazy, thinks ideas are dangerous, wanted to make everything Bill and I were “discovering” as an exercise in thought…illegal. Basic book burner.  What a contrast!

Is Your CRM at Risk?

Is your CRM Normal?

Warning:  This Article is not for tech guys!

When it comes to your CRM, being “Normal” is a fabulously good thing.  Most  CRM contain over 30% of duplicate data. Not only is that ugly, but  it causes problems for your sales team and costs your company revenue.

In simple terms, I’m talking about Clean CRM Data.  If you asked your tech guy, he would call it “Data Normalization”.  If you are a tech guy, we covered this…come up, stop reading!

Understanding the problem

Nearly every CRM company and internal corporate IT department has taken a stab at solving the problem of data normalization.  Unfortunately, no one has done it right!  Why?  Think about it: when you buy a CRM it is usually empty.  If you import dirty data from an old CRM, the new CRM will be dirty.
Normalization cannot be dictated at the vendor level

CRM systems are not designed to normalize data.  Why?  A good CRM must deliver flexibility to each client implementation;  normalization cannot be dictated at the vendor level.  Therefore, it is left to each individual customer and each individual user to enter and import data in the way that they see fit.   For the CRM vendor it is a lose-lose scenario. If they dictate a data format, whichever format they choose, be it verbose or abbreviated, someone will not be happy.

Massive duplicates and miskeyed data does not become a problem until after you start to use a CRM.   About a year after the CRM is implemented is typically when the buyer realizes there is a huge problem with the information.  Without some systematic way to start with and keep information clean, duplicates will be introduced and someone has an opportunity to make more $$ on professional services.

Dirty data is a profit center.

While dirty data can lose you revenue, it is  good for service providers; you store more due to duplicates and eventually someone will need to clean that data.

An unending cycle

You recently made the investment and spent the money to have your data cleaned. Now what?  Unless you have an enforceable, real-time strategy to keep your data clean, the cycle will continue.  Six months to a year after “cleaning” your data, it will go from pristine to ugly again and the cycle will continue. Efficiency, revenue and opportunity will be diminished.

How does data get dirty? Who is responsible?

There are 3 ways information enters a CRM.

Hand entered. This is a common method that takes place literally every day.  Did you know there are over 20 ways of writing the company name “The Container Company Corporation”?   Some people are verbose and will type out the entire company name, other will take shortcuts or just mis-key the information.  We are all unique, and unfortunately for your CRM, that can lead to 20 instances or more of the same company in your CRM.

Product Imported. Many Software products have the capability to directly imported data into a CRM.  What rules do those products obey?  Do the rules that they use match your company rules?  Do you even have a set of rules that your company follows? What happens when a duplicate is encountered?  Unfortunately, most of these questions are never asked.  The result: more ugly data.

Mass Imported. While Product imports are done external to the CRM, Mass imports are done within the CRM.  Mass imports are typically done by the IT department or your CRM vendor.  Guess what?  Mass imports can be the worst offenders.  In some cases, the person charged with doing the import is exceptional and it is done correctly, however, this is typically the exception.   In most cases, vendors doing imports and data migration don’t  have the proper tool sets to get the job done.  Even more importantly, they have not coached their clients or asked the proper questions to assure success.

I contend that most imports that are generally considered successful would get a flat “D” on my score card.  If you think your process was good, read on.

Establishing a lasting solution

Solve a problem at its source and you solve it for good.  The best way to get control of your CRM is to create and enforce a Data-Plan.  This is not a minor undertaking, however, for any sales team more than a few people it is critical.  The quiz below is dual-purpose, it will teach you what you need to do and give you a score-card of where are now.
Is your company at Risk?  Take the Broadlook “Are you Normal”  QUIZ:

So, where does your company is rank in terms of the sources and impacts of duplicate data?  Take a moment to take the quiz below.  Good luck.  Be honest!

The Dirty Data Quiz: Is Your CRM at Risk?

Data Plan. 15 points. Does your company have a standard format for CRM data?  If you don’t, this is where you start the entire process.  To comply with best practices, your Data-Plan should be centrally stored, accessible by anyone who enters data into your CRM.  In essence, the Data-Plan acts as a single-point-of-truth for your company and how it treats data.  Your points: ______

Staff Training. 5 points. Has your staff has been trained on your Data-Plan and it is easily accessible?  While this is a great step, it is not as important as making the CRM enforce your data plan automatically.  If your CRM does offer a feature like this, the training is most important for your IT department who can circumvent the constraints put on the average user.  Your points: ______

CRM Cleaned. 5 points. Has your CRM gone through a full Normalization and de-duplication process?  Once you have your Data-Plan developed, you need to ensure that the data you have meets the plan.  Why only 5 points?  A one-time cleaning does not solve the long term problem.  Don’t pat yourself on the back for this,  if this is all you do, you will have one month per year of clean data.  Your points: ______

CRM Enforcement. 20 points. Is your data plan enforced by your CRM?  This is tremendously important. The reality is that not one CRM provider (that I have seen) has a detailed data normalizer that can enforce your data plan like like Broadlook’s CRMShield™.  If your provider does not have this feature, it means you must either build or find an add-on to your CRM.  An even better option is to would be to provide all users to the CRM a tool like Broadlook’s Contact Capture to enter contacts into your CRM.  Contact Capture is FREE (not trying to sell anything here).  Your points: ______

Product/Integration Enforcement. 10 points. Do other products that bring information into your CRM adhere to your Data-Plan?  Beware of products that dump data to a Excel or CSV file.  Sometimes it is unavoidable, however, direct exporting systems that comply with your Data-Plan and do de-duplication in real-time are always a superior choice.  Your points: ______

Vendor Enforcement. 10 Points. Do vendors that provide you with list data deliver it in compliance with your Data-Plan?  Some vendors may push back at first; however, it has been my experience that the entire process will go smoother if the vendor complies to the Data-Plan.  Hold your ground and remember that list providers want your business.  Show them the format that you want your data …and don’t compromise. Your points: ______

Import Enforcement, by culture. 5 points. Does the IT staff buy-in to following the Data-Plan?  The best way to make this happen is include the IT department in the development of the Data-Plan.  Your points: ______

Import Enforcement, by technology.  15 points. Is your IT staff prevented from circumventing a Data-Plan by rights management?  Everyone must obey the Data-Plan. If your IT staff can circumvent best practices established by management, problems will arise.  It the IT staff disagrees with a Data-Plan, best practice dictates that the Data-Plan reviewed, discussed and potentially revised. Again, this maintains the single point of truth and enforceability to make your Data Plan work.  Your points: ______

URL Enforcement. 20 points. Do you have a URL (website) field for each company in your CRM.? The URL of a company is more important than a DUNS number, location or anything else.  It is the single best piece of company-centric information that can be used to update the CRM over time.  The URL can be used to update and add contacts to your CRM with tools like Broadlook’s Profiler.  Your points: ______

How did you do? I want to hear from you! Send how you did to Donato Diorio (ddiorio@broadlook.com).

SCORE GRADE
<20 F
40 D
60 C
80 B
100 A
Your score: __________

Understand how your data and your processes rank is paramount.  Dirty CRM data is a huge problem with sales force efficiency.  You may think that cleaning your CRM data on a regular cycle is a good thing.  Don’t pat yourself on the back just yet;  cleaning CRM data on a cycle is treating a symptom.  Just like good physical health,  the best solution to eradicate dirty CRM data is prevention.  Prevent dirty data from getting into your CRM and your CRM be clean and health.  You may even enjoy using it again.

After thought:

Broadlook has just completed developing a new, revolutionary tool to empower the CRM experts, consultants and the users that they support.  It is called CRMShield™.  CRMShield solves a serious issue faced by every business that uses a CRM; data duplication. One piece of the CRMShield technology,  “The Normalizer” will be shipped in June and is included free in every Broadlook product that works with contact information.  I thought I would share some of my excitement about it.