Intelleca has made a name for itself at home with its innovative speech recognition and voice biometrics solutions, but the borderless contact centre industry beckons SA`S CONTACT CENTRE industry is maturing and competing globally for business. However it is still not price-competitive when compared with markets such as India and the Philippines.

"Automating just 5% to 15% of calls coming into a contact centre would reduce our costs," observes nzon" rel=tag>Mike Renzon, the CEO of Intelleca, a local provider of telco-grade voice solutions.

Ideally positioned to cater to this automation drive, Intelleca is probably best known for its development of the first South African English acoustic model that enables commercially-developed speech recognition software to recognise and respond to South African English.

This development is significant for two reasons: In the past, speech recognition software developed for US or UK accents usually could not cope with our South African English accent (A real issue for the financial services market, which demands accuracy). Moreover, a wealth of information can now be provided over the phone to people not necessarily literate, or who have no access to the Internet.


The acoustic model was the culmination of three years of work with US-based Nuance, a global provider of speech and imaging solutions, and the CSIR`s Meraka Institute. Intelleca`s speech engineers collected more than three million utterances recorded by locals and manually integrated the voice patterns into the engine.

Today, Intelleca`s solution has successfully been deployed at Discovery Health, , Banking, the Airports Company SA, Property24 and a host of others.

Renzon reveals that his company is currently building an Afrikaans acoustic model, set for release by year-end. It will begin work on an isiZulu model in the second half of the year, and thereafter will develop a seSotho acoustic model.

Another innovation from the privately-held company is the local provision of a contact centre-on-demand solution, under licence from CosmoCom, also of the US. "Eighteen to twenty-four months ago we considered how the contact centre industry would look in five and ten years` time, and we predicted the further commoditisation of contact centre software technology. Telco networks will become key providers of contact centre solutions, and the technology must sit on the service provider`s network," elaborates Renzon.

Intelleca decided to represent CosmoCom and its universal access, all-IP contact centre platform locally. "We did extensive research, and we really liked their business model - BT, France Telecom and Japan Telecom are clients - and they`re differentiated technologically as well," he adds.

"Newcomers to the local business process outsourcing supplier market are typically under-capitalised, and our model is perfect for them, as they pay a monthly rental based on their usage," indicates Renzon.

Since the launch of its contact centre-on-demand solution, "we`ve had some very strong business come through," he says. It is currently rolling out a 100-seater contact centre for an unnamed client in this regard, and is also midway through a 300-seater CRM managed services project for a contact centre client.


"When we launched Intelleca in 1998, we had two goals: to differentiate ourselves from the mass of corporate IT solution providers, and to be relevant in our chosen sphere of practice. In fact, we didn`t come to market with a technology, but with a mindset," notes Renzon.

The young company got off to a healthy start when it successfully privatised Natal Med Administrators, a medical scheme administrator previously under municipal management, which was soon snapped up by a larger player in the healthcare arena.

The experience gave Intelleca a very thorough understanding of the IT processes in the healthcare industry, which it focuses to this day, providing administration software solutions and consulting services to medical schemes, hospitals and medical communities.

In 2000, Intelleca expanded into the telecoms space, where it saw increasing opportunity, particularly around voice standards even though "convergence wasn`t a buzzword yet", says Renzon.

Using technology licensed from UK company Vocalis, Intelleca claims to have been the first SA company to introduce access to a Web server or site via telephone. Today, Intelleca provides total voice automation solution systems for most of SA`s bluechip companies.

It also introduced speaker verification technology, or voice biometrics, to the country with the launch of MTN Banking last year. Two months ago another retail bank launched its voice biometrics solution with "very little fanfare", following a six-month pilot. Renzon declines to name the bank.

"We want to become the number one player in contact centre provisioning. We`re already number one in specific niches locally," he maintains, referring to specialist services in the financial services and healthcare verticals.

It is also active in the rest of Africa, particularly in the telco and power utility market, and is currently rebranding its Africa division as Intelleca Ventures, seeing as it provides complete business solutions, rather than individual products or technologies.

Word of its SA project successes also spreads to the US and UK from time to time, and it is currently being considered as a ticketing system supplier by a "very large US theatre chain".

Tags: Innovator:  Intelleca