Genesta Offers Quick and Inexpensive Voice Enablement for i/OS Apps
March 16, 2010 Alex Woodie
Manufacturers and distributors that would like to voice-enable their i/OS applications, but have been daunted by the six- or seven-digit price tags and the need to modify application source code, may be interested in the new SyVox emulator announced by Genesta last month. The established provider of voice-enablement solutions says the new product will allow i/OS shops to voice-enable their applications, using techniques similar to screen-scraping, for less than $20,000.
Voice-enablement is one of the hottest technologies in warehousing and manufacturing at the moment. By allowing workers to communicate verbally with WMS and ERP applications–responding to audio directions from the computer (text-to-speech), and giving verbal responses back (speech recognition)–workers’ eyes and hands are freed for other tasks, such as picking a package off a shelf, or driving a forklift. This provides companies with one of two main benefits: enabling workers to do more work, or to do existing tasks more accurately.
However, up until a few years ago, only the largest distributors could justify the high cost of voice enablement solutions. The integration work required to voice-enable an existing ERP or WMS system would typically cost $50,000 to $150,000, not counting hardware or software, which exceeded $10,000 per worker. This high cost limited the potential market for voice-enabled applications to distributors with more than 50 employees or a quarter of a million square feet of warehouse space.
With the launch of its SyVox Emulator, Genesta is putting voice enablement (including both speech recognition and text-to-speech) within the grasp of thousands of medium-sized i/OS shops in the manufacturing and distribution industries. The product does this by eliminating the need for low-level integration work between the host application and the voice-enabled software itself.
Instead of requiring programming modifications, SyVox Client (which runs on a Windows server) streamlines the integration by using screen-scraping techniques that have been widely used to Web-enable many i/OS applications, according to Bill Anderson, spokesman for Genesta, which is based in the Dallas, Texas, suburb of Rockwall.
“What we’ve done is created a system where we can put our SyVox Emulator in between our SyVox Client, which is our speech client that runs on a mobile computer, and the AS/400,” Anderson says. “The SyVox Emulator is the gateway, and the SyVox Client is the piece that understands how to do speech recognition and text to speech. The Emulator bridges 5250 traffic, and turns that into SyVox Voice XML. The Syvox Client then takes the SyVox client XML responses, and turns them back into 5250.”
“With the emulator, Genesta is able to voice enable i/OS applications for as little as $10,000 to $15,000 in software and integration work, while the wearable computers (also available from Genesta) now cost about $2,500. Now it’s starting to make sense for five users. That’s just a big change in the market,” Anderson says.
This wasn’t Genesta’s first attempt to connect with the AS/400. In fact, the company has been trying for years to get a suitable voice-enablement platform for i/OS, and now it has two feasible routes.
The company’s previous solution for quick-and-dirty voice enablement was all client side. “It was an abysmal failure for us, and the reason was because we hadn’t factored in all of the connection maintenance,” Anderson says. “We would drop connections so the speech process would get all screwed up, and we would have difficulty communicating, because the AS/400 midrange platform was very sensitive to the loss of that connection.
“And so we said, the way we solve that connection is we need a dedicated connection from a Telnet perspective. So we put that [emulator] on a Windows server, nailed that connection up over a wired connection, used a Web interface to extend that, and put the scripting in place so we could simply scrape the screen and convert it,” he says.
Now, companies that have access to 5250 green screens for their WMS or ERP applications can voice-enable (or “speechify”) applications quickly and easily with SyVox Emulator. Customers don’t need source code, and no modifications are required. Yes, customers still need to develop their voice-enabled applications by working with the SyVox Client and its Voice XML specification. But that is not that difficult, and is par for the course in any case.
Genesta is currently working with an i/OS shop to voice-enable its WMS applications. The company, which is a customer of a major i/OS WMS provider, was told it would cost from $6 million to $8 million to upgrade its WMS to a release that offered voice-enabled communication for workers. Working with Genesta and SyVox Emulator, the company was able to voice-enable its applications for about $50,000, according to Anderson.
Companies that do have the resources to modify their i/OS applications, or to create new applications, have other options with Genesta. Recently the company discovered the SyVox Client could communicate directly with the i/OS Apache Web server via CGI techniques. (Previously the company attempted to offer a direct connection via sockets programming, which also didn’t turn out so well.)
Directly connecting to the SyVox Client via i/OS Apache Web server requires more work than the screen-scraping approach offered through the SyVox Emulator. No special tools are required, as the SyVox Voice XML specification is based on an open standard and can be used within any of the major IDEs from IBM, Microsoft, or Oracle.
But the direct-connect approach has the potential to result in more elegant voice-enabled i/OS applications, Anderson says. It also keeps developers working within their RPG comfort zone. A Pepsi bottler is currently voice-enabling its i/OS applications using this approach.
Whichever route i/OS shops choose–the screen-scraping approach with SyVox Emulator or the direct-to-SyVox Client approach using CGI programming and the Apache Web server–Genesta is keen on the i/OS opportunity.
“We’re excited because there’s a ton of mid-size companies that run on the iSeries, who depend on the iSeries,” Anderson says. “There’s lot of folks out there with midrange computers that have kind of been abandoned by our industry, and we want to do what we can to take advantage of that.”
Licenses for SyVox Emulator cost $4,995. Licenses for SyVox Client cost $475 each. For more information, visit www.genesta.com.
This article was corrected. Pricing for the SyVox Client is $475, not $400. IT Jungle regrets the error.