VoiceSage and the business of...business

One of the most interesting companies that took part in October's Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm is VoiceSage, a small Irish firm that develops innovative enterprise applications using telco services. This was a major theme of the event - if you want MySpace for monkeys on LG Prada phones, or the nth twist on music downloads, you'll be fine asking Vodafone or Sprint, but if you ask anyone who gets Telco 2.0, they're probably working on something for business users.

There is a very good reason for this; compared to telecoms, most of the trades that conventional wisdom thinks will provide growth and margin in the future are tiny. Telcos could completely crush the ad business - eat every ad agency in the world - and notice only a minor blip in their revenues. The telecoms industry could take over Hollywood and barely feel the bump, like some grey-suited monster lumbering over the Los Angeles canyons. For an encore, they could crush their way up the coast to San Francisco and eat the computer game industry. And it still might not be enough.

But if you decide to aim for businesses instead, the game changes dramatically; then, the addressable market is gigantic, being the entire damn economy. VoiceSage specialises in messaging applications; they market to companies with large customer-facing activities, offering improved call-centre productivity, a reduction in the number of inbound calls with trivial inquiries, better credit control, and greater efficiency in customer service.

They consider their applications as mashups, assembled quickly from standard components to meet specific customer requirements. For example, Indesit delivers washing machines and similar white goods; combining mapping, GPS-equipped devices, and messaging, VoiceSage gave them the capability to control their logistics very finely and cut the number of times the delivery van arrives and finds the customer isn't there, or the customer waits all day for the delivery and the van isn't there. Further, the system made it possible to trace goods all the way through the supply chain and issue alerts based on specific criteria.

This is why Telco 2.0 is keen on the idea of telecoms as a logistics business; containerisation created essentially two kinds of company in shipping, big infrastructures and logistics organisers. Big infrastructures, both ports and shipping lines, move vast quantities of undifferentiated boxes around the world; logistics organisers arrange things so that Company X gets a box of widgets to a specific customer at a specific time. And the most successful company in the field, AP Moller Maersk, owns both kinds of businesses; docks and ships on one hand, but also customer representatives, salesmen, and serious IT on the other. The analogy with a telco ought to be obvious.

Interestingly, one of the businesses that really could benefit from VoiceSage's solutions, and others like them, is - telecoms! It's part of being a telco that one of the biggest OPEX line items is the cost of getting field-service technicians out to the customer premises to install/upgrade/fix/remove lines and equipment, investigate faults, and maintain the infrastructure. Now, if you could only get rid of all the truck rolls that have to be repeated because the truck is late or the customer isn't there...

Sometimes, of course, the link between logistics and telecoms innovation is more obvious.