The rest as they say is history – and in Summerfield’s case it’s a rich history.
Today he’s the founder and chief executive of Auraya Systems, which has developed Armorvox, a voice biometric and speech recognition system that is already deployed in St George Bank and New Zealand’s tax office. It’s his second start-up having previously founded Syrinx which produced speech recognition which was used in TABs, CommSec and AT&T in the US.
Summerfield’s timing is better this time around thanks to the advent of the smartphone. According to ABS statistics released this week there are now over 16 million mobile phone subscribers in Australia, and a growing proportion of these are smartphones – used not only for voice but internet connection.
With security a key issue for smartphone users voice biometrics seems the logical technology to allow user authentication. At the same time enterprise contact centres could also benefit from a technology which allows someone ringing in to be identified and authenticated just from their voice print.
His first enterprise, Syrinx, was founded in 1990, and over a decade used $20 million in venture capital to become the largest speech recognition business outside of the US and Europe, with a team of 65 people. But along the way Summerfield was ousted by new management installed at the company and started casting around for new opportunities.
Nine months later when Syrinx went into liquidation Summerfield found himself working with Ted Dunstone, helping to set up Australia’s Biometrics Institute; and later working with VeCommerce which was a Nuance reseller and has since been bought by Salmat.
He was then offered a position as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra in computer science focussed on biometrics. “I was a Clayton’s professor – they pretend to pay me so I pretend to work,” says Summerfield. But the gig eventually led to his latest adventure.
In 2005 Centrelink asked the university to undertake an evaluation of off the shelf voice biometrics, and Summerfield helmed the project through his consulting business 3SH which developed a methodology for evaluating voice biometrics.
“Centrelink worked out that by automating authentication they could save a bundle and strengthen security.” On the back of that report the organisation starting talking to Telstra about implementing a voice biometrics system. In a curious twist of fate Telstra had ended up with the Syrinx intellectual property in its portfolio, having bought local business Kaz, which had itself salvaged the IP from the wreck of Syrinx.