Dictation Equipment: Speak For Yourself

Take note Miss Jones – dictation is being re-accepted as the most efficient method of creating documents, putting thoughts on paper.

“Business people are coming to the realisation that having relatively highly paid people performing their own typing (or keying, as it is now known) is not exactly productive use of time,” – end of quote.

Those are the words of Colleen Dingle of Forefront Technologies – the distributor of Philips portable dictation systems. “The trend to digital and its advantages of higher quality sound, immediate delivery, and electronic information/identification on recordings, makes it the first choice for individuals and organisations wanting to replace or install dictation system,” says Dingle.

So what are the options in digital systems? Terry Anderson, director of Sound Business Systems/Andos, reports that the market has grown significantly in recent times, and vendors with the specialist resources to support digital systems, are reaping the most benefit.

“In the last quarter, and for the first time in 40 years of supplying dictation equipment, our digital sales have surpassed tape-based system sales,” says Anderson. “And digital sales are shared evenly in dollar value between handheld portable recorders and LAN-based network systems such as WinScribe.”

Anderson says Olympus is still number one in the portable market, although it has met some stiff competition from the recently launched Philips 9300 Digital Pocket Memo, which has simple slide switch control that emulates older tape-based devices. Sony and Sanyo are two other major players.

Dawn Wilson, managing director of Olympus vendor Dictation Distributors, agrees that there has been huge growth in the market, especially the PC connection and ‘notecorder’ categories: “It has very much become vertical market, both in New Zealand and worldwide.”

Digital media uses such popular memory formats as SmartMedia and CompactFlash – robust cards that store data in compressed voice file and will not suffer loss in quality over time. Compressed voice file technologies make it easy to send voice messages and dictation anywhere in the world.

The Olympus DS3000 for example, using DSS (Digital Speech Standard) technology, automatically downloads, attaches, and emails dictation to support staff, wherever they may be. DSS files are up to 20 times smaller than standard WAV sound files, which make them ideal for email.

Speaking via an emailed DSS file, Wilson sees today’s dictation devices as more integral part of an organisation’s networked environment, integrating with enterprise-wide dictation systems such as WinScribe.

WinScribe is home-grown “open-standards” digital dictation system that has become well accepted in the professional dictation marketplace in New Zealand. The latest version (3.1), released in July 2002, features full integration with Dragon Naturally Speaking Professional, and Philips SpeechMagic speech recognition programs. “WinScribe allows authors to dictate from anywhere, anytime,” says Dale Matravers, international business development manager for WinScribe Inc.

“By combining the use of digital handheld recorders, telephone dictation, and portable handheld PCs, WinScribe can be tailored to almost any organisation with dictation requirements.”

WinScribe allows authors to manage and track their dictated documents to signoff and completion, and each document is allocated desired turnaround time. “Authors can dictate when and how they prefer, and from any location,” explains Matravers, “and with the confidence that the work will be securely transmitted and completed within defined period of time.”

Understand what you’re buying
Never buy dictation system from brochure, always get live demonstration – that’s the advice from Terry Anderson. “Always get the system installed and configured by professional too,” he says, “and you’ll need training on the common do’s and don’ts.”

ForeFront’s Dingle considers digital to be the best option, and system that is future-proofed. For example, is there requirement in the future for speech recognition, or for off-site dictation and/or transcription?

“Get buy-in from users of the system before installation,” advises Dingle. “If it is digital make sure they understand, at least in broad terms, what is happening and make the transition as simple as possible.”

Of course, an organisation shouldn’t have to change the way it works to accommodate the requirements of new dictation system. Ensure the solution you choose meets the overall needs of the organisation, as well as the needs of each department.

Other considerations for buyers of digital handheld devices include memory – can it be expanded? – length of recording time, and is there USB connectivity? (If you’re still running Windows 95, this will be problem.) Training is paramount. Dawn Wilson believes that as digital voice solutions become more popular people will need training in how to dictate.

“A lot of people are nervous about sitting and talking into machine. I’ve watched many authors who constantly rewind and over-record because to them it doesn’t sound right. There are some basic dictation skills that need to be learnt, and lot of that involves thinking logically.”

What the future holds
Networked LAN/WAN dictation systems will continue to evolve in the next five years, according to Anderson. “They will integrate to wide range of input devices such as voice-enabled PDAs and multi-function devices, and most will connect wirelessly.

“On one device you’ll be able to talk to someone [à la cellular phone], send and receive emails via the web, and dictate letter while stuck in the traffic. That letter will be transmitted, converted to text via speech recognition engine, checked for mistakes by your PA, and sent to the recipient, all before you reach the office. In fact, why would you bother to go there at all?”

Matravers predicts that enterprise-wide systems will be integrated with speech recognition engines in the quest to improve productivity. “Distributed workforces will need to be accommodated in software solutions, and as more companies join the global community, solutions will need to be ‘distributed but integrated’, whilst maintaining flexibility and security.”

In the US, most medical organisations are utilising digital dictation systems, and many of the major health providers in this country are doing the same.

“Imagine medical professional dictating notes on patients as he goes about his ward rounds, having those notes transmitted wirelessly to secure managed WinScribe server, which routes it for transcription, all before he moves to the next patient,” says Matravers.

“And it’s not just the medical profession that will benefit from the technology advances – legal and government sectors also have need for such digital system,” he says.

Make note to follow up on digital dictation system today.

Speak – and be recognised
Speech recognition (SR) software (also referred to as ‘engines’) is natural extension of the digital dictation process, and higher degree of integration between dictation systems and SR software is becoming commonplace particularly in medical and professional fields, and wherever people want freedom from typing.

There are those who say that the SR market has slowed down, and to date much of the frustration of implementing SR program has been caused by poor hardware performance and lack of adequate training.

However, John Ballard, director of Speech Recognition of New Zealand, believes that computer speed (vastly improved by the Pentium 4 processor) and performance has finally caught up and that executives, doctors, lawyers and others are discovering huge benefits in SR.

“For firms that have shifted secretarial functions onto management staff – typical cost-cutting trend nowadays – speech recognition software is ideal,” says Ballard. “Doctors provide bette

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