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Three-Level Client-Server Model Used in Interactive Voice Response Systems

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It used to be the only time you got recordings over the phone was when you called for the time. Then movie theaters got answering machines to announce show times. Now that the technology has grown in sophistication, we've grown accustomed to interactive voice response systems in banking, stock purchasing, order processing, and a host of other applications.

One US company staying on the leading edge of providing interactive voice response specializes in information systems for the human resource management functions of major corporations. One of their applications can do the work of many telephone operators repeatedly helping employees check, update or modify their benefits packages.

The heart of their system is their specially designed voice processor. It includes digital signal processing to provide analog to digital conversion, turning touch tones into commands which can then be sent to applications running on PC computers.

While the voice processor is the heart of their system and excels as a specific purpose machine, the computer is the soul of their solution, running the voice response applications. Software development tools, project management systems and email were some of the reasons to work with a two-computer scenario. The firm uses interface cards from Quadron to link the two machines and their senior development engineer discovered tools from Quadron Corporation to get the most out of them.

"Quadron's products turn my interface adapters into multi-processing, multi-port cards," he says. "The interactive voice module uses ports as terminal emulators. At the same time, voice processing uses the ports for data transport. These are both linked to a communications DLL that manages port availability and selection. Without Quadron's qCF, we couldn't run all of those on the same card at the same time. And because I can use DLLs, I can save the memory I need for traffic."

The firm is further relieved of some of the low-level bit management by using Quadron programming tools. "Their qCF lets me write faster because I can use standard C calls, it handles memory and task management, and does all the I/O buffering."

All together, their system is a true client / server system, with a three-tiered processing model. The end-user application runs on the computer; the signal processing is handled by their voice processor; and the communications between them is managed by the CPU found on the card. The results are so impressive that companies using voice response systems are able to pass their savings along and charge less per electronic transaction than human transaction.

"People get so excited about voice response, we have to remind them to add a choice to speak to a person," says their senior engineer. "Voice response can take action on any directed task and can answer a surprisingly large number of questions, but it can't keep up with how fast people can make up new ones."


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