Open Source (or cheap) Dictation / Typist Transcription workflow solution wanted

All our tape based dictation / transcription machines have bit the dust. We've replaced them with with a series of Philips digital kits (dictators and pedals), but the included software doesn't allow for any decent workflow. Specifically, we have 5 attorneys that dictate, and upwards of 7 typists, all of which might take the task of transcribing a given dictation, depending on their commitments during the working day.

The provided software (SpeechExec Dictate & Transcribe) only allows for sending dictations to specific individuals, not a pool of typists. I just need a recommendation for a product that could handle this aspect, whether it's a web part addon for SharePoint, or full workflow portal offering.

I have tried NCH's offerings, but there are big problems with the software on 64-bit systems (which no matter how much I contact them, they fail to reply or do anything about, even though they keep releasing new version). We also looked at Big Hand, but they wanted us to spend upward of £5000, when we want to spend more like £500.

All the other firms I've looked at want you to call them, and don't provide a demo to try for ourselves, which I frankly don't like. I want at least a 14 day trial that's accessible easily, before we commit. I just want to find a firm that have a reasonably priced product (we could push up to £1000 out of management for this).

Any suggestions welcomed :)

Thanks guys!
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sbsnzConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Hi Bluemercury,

It does sound like Speechexec will do what you need it to do. Depending on which hardware you've purchased, you might already have the SpeechExec Pro software. 7277 kits come with Pro Transcribe, 7177 kits with just Transcribe etc.

SpeechExec can handle the folder mapping transparently to the user - the Finished Dictations folder on the Author side can be mapped to a folder on the network, and the Pending Dictations folder in SpeechExec Transcribe can be mapped to that same folder.

I'm attaching a couple of PDF guides that we use sometimes - they are for V7 of SpeechExec Pro, but the vast majority of the options should be identical for the non-pro versions. The method I was suggesting works best if the typists are using SpeechExec Transcribe (or Pro Transcribe) rather than double clicking on the files via Windows Explorer. Within SpeechExec, you get an Outlook-style folder listing, which makes it much easier to locate files. It can be tricky to explain, but if you take a look at the guides you'll see what I mean. With Pro Transcribe you can set up notifications so that typists are notified when new work comes through, and with both versions of the software dictations are automatically archived when finished so that the network folders stay clear, but the typists can still work with files they've finished if they wish.

Here is the Transcribe guide:  SpeechExec-Pro-Transcribe-Folder.pdf

Here is the Dictate guide:  SpeechExec-Pro-Dictate-Folders-G.pdf
Joe Winograd, Fellow&MVEDeveloperCommented:
As you have discovered, there are few firms that simply let you download the software to try. Nearly all want you to call them or fill out a form so they can call you. Here's a rare one that lets you do a download and free 30-day trial:

("All software is distributed as a Free fully functional 30-day trial version. Free downloads include Turbo Dictation Software which includes Transcription software.")

It claims to allow you to "Manage, prioritize and monitor dictation workflow."

I have no idea how good it is, but it's worth a shot – and it's hassle-free. Cheers, Joe
bluemercuryAuthor Commented:
Hi Joe.

I really appreciate you making the effort to pass this info on. I've given Turbo Dictation a go, and it's 90% of what we want, but with some unfortunate issues. I note the author of the software hasn't updated it since March 2009 (before Windows 7 came out) and there are issues and glitches with navigation here and there, and the general running of the software. I note the latest release is even classified as a beta. The principal of workflow is defintely evident though, and I'm going to contact the author to see if I can get a reply, and some kind of idea of product roadmap for the future (especially as I suspect it might be abandonware prone) .

It really amazes me that it is so difficult to get dictation / transcription workflow software at a reasonable price, with a trial first. As you have clearly also found, things just aren't this way.

I'll let you know how things progress, and if you have anymore thoughts, these will be gratefully received.

Many thanks for your help,

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Joe Winograd, Fellow&MVEConnect With a Mentor DeveloperCommented:
One other idea. I've been using a product called PaperPort for around 15 years. It is a low-end/home-user imaging solution that has passed through a few owners and is now owned by a company called Nuance Communications:

I mention this because Nuance has moved strongly into the dictation/speech recognition space with its Dragon product line. I don't know if any of their products will work for you, but they do have workflow. There are no trials per se, but I believe that all of their software is downloadable from Digital River and all carry a 30-day money back guarantee, which I know for a fact is honored. Regards, Joe
This may be a bit of a stupid suggestion, and I'm sure you've thought of it already - but is there any reason that you can't just set up one folder on the network for all of the authors to dictate into and set up all of the typists to look at it? How are the files being sent through at the moment?

We have a several users with SpeechExec who work in that exact sort of environment. Do you have Pro Dictate/Pro Transcribe, or just Dictate/Transcribe?

If that isn't what you are after, our typical setup is for each Author to go to a separate folder on the network and then each typist to have all of those folders set up in Pro Transcribe so that they can just grab work from whichever Author has some waiting for typing.

Just a thought anyway - I'm happy to go into more detail, but it does depend on if you have Pro/non Pro versions of the software. As you've discovered, a proper workflow solution will be quite expensive - I'm not aware of any true open source ones, although I hadn't heard of Turbo Dictation - and most of them will require a dedicated dictation server to manage the workflow. Generally you won't find many that will give you a free trial, as setting up and configuring a full workflow solution can be a bit tricky and generally requires time from an expert on that particular software.
bluemercuryAuthor Commented:
Thank you to the both of you for your further input, and sorry for my delay in replying. I've had to put out some other proverbial fires at work, taking me off this project for a few days.

Joe - thanks for mentioning Nuance. I'd already gone down the route of looking at them, and couldn't see anything that quite fitted the bill. This was only a few weeks back - they seemed heavy on speech recognition transcription conversions (something we don't want at all) but I didn't see any workflow stuff. I will look again though, as perhaps I missed a trick.

TurboDictation had to be ditched, as the only way of contacting the author didn't work. They have a contact form on their website, which gives up errors when used, and no mention of their email address otherwise. It's shame, as it would seem a potentially servicable application has become abandoned by the author.

sbsnz - you're idea is sound, and indeed had already occured to me. Unfortunately, we only have the free versions of SpeechExec, as bundled with the kits we got. I looked at altering the folders SpeechExec was picking up on, and the scope was very limited. It occured to me to map a network drive for each user, and have subfolders where people could manually move around the files they were working on directly through Windows Explorer, and double click them to fire up the SpeechExec player. The trouble is, the people I work with don't show the highest level of aptitude towards IT matters, and I think they need a more obvious way of grabbing files, that doesn't involve manual rearrangement within a tree structure.

The line I'm now going down is using the Group Chat role add-on for Microsoft Lync Server. I'm having a game with Lync, but getting there slowly with getting it setup. This will provide a platform for creating a permenant realtime collaberation group, where files can be exchanged for transcription, and communication will be clear to all as to what is being working on. Dication files will be handled by SpeechExec player, having been loaded up from the app directly.

I really appreciate you both leaving suggestions and trying to help me. I'm persevering with the Lync based solution, and then will be coming back on here to let you know how it's all gone.

Many thanks,

Joe Winograd, Fellow&MVEDeveloperCommented:

Thanks for the update – interesting stuff! As far as I know, Nuance doesn't have a workflow product per se. Workflow capability is built into their other products, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, OmniPage, and PaperPort. So if none of their products fits the bill for you, they are not the right choice.

I'm curious to see how it goes for you. Looking forward to your future posts with results. Good luck on the project! Regards, Joe
bluemercuryAuthor Commented:
Hi Joe - many thanks for that and the well wishes :)

I've tried PaperPort before, and considered it for our business last year (although we went for a product called FileDirector by Spielberg instead). Your logic in recommending a look was excellent, and I can see what tree you're barking up - Nuance were one of the first firms I took a look at in this challenge.

I will look forward [hopefully] to posting back on here soon. Lync is proceeding to be trouble at the moment, but as soon as I have any functional setup to report on, I shall. I know the technology isn't strictly targeted for what I'm trying to do, but I think it might just work.

Many thanks :)
Joe Winograd, Fellow&MVEDeveloperCommented:
Sounds good! You're welcome, Joe
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bluemercuryAuthor Commented:
Hi guys - something has gone weird with the notifications on my EE account - really sorry for the lack of reply (at least the last post I was never even notified of).

I promise I will be coming back later today with more info on where I am at with this. I have been off work sick, so sorry for the slackness in picking this up manually.

Cheers guys :)
bluemercuryAuthor Commented:
Hi guys - I came back on the said day, and the EE admin had gone ahead anyway and set the answers. Sorry to be absent on this - I've been deluged with massive problems on our doc management system at work for the last month, and it's just paused everything else I'm doing. I'm spread way too thinly at present.

I'm very happy the points were split between you (although possibly not on the most relevant answers, for anyone reading this post).

sbsnz - all along, I've felt that I might be able to use network folders with SpeechExec Transcribe / Dictate. As stated, we unfortunately definitely don't have the Pro versions - the kits we got came with 'standard' releases, and in fact I ended up in a fight even getting the latest releases out of Philips, as it was old stock with version 5 software, instead of 7 (they eventually sent upgrades).

I did already try network mapping the SpeechExec folders, but it didn't seem to work. I think I will try and revisit it though, as this was the simply principal I felt should work right at the beginning. One question though - even if I manage to get the folders in transcribe / dictate to transparently link to a shared network folder, do they refresh on their own accord? What I mean is, if a new dictation is added to a shared folder by a user, will it automatically appear within seconds under transcribe if the user already has that folder selected on screen? Or would they need to refresh by switching between folders momentarily, or the like?

joewinograd - thanks again for your input - real shame your intial suggestion didn't do the job. Looked promising if the author had been contactable and still working on it. I couldn't find anything Nuance had to offer that fitted the bill, but it is possible I'm just being dense.

As promised, here are my findings on Lync Group Chat Server. It's basically done the job, albeit a bit Heath Robinson style. All users log in to group chat, and can join the conversation and take any dictation files that are posted. It all happens in real time, without any refreshes. The problem I had (other than Lync being a menace to getting working - lots of effort) is that DSS files won't open from the Group Chat client. For some reason, Microsoft deem them a risk, and you have to save, locate folder, open, etc. This makes for an awful solution. It is not an apparent problem with MP3 files though.

But our recorders don't support MP3 encoding; only recording in DSS! So the end result is that users who dictate have a really easy program that allows 'right click' conversion of DSS to MP3, they drop it on the group chat window, all users have the ability to say they can take it, and they open it straight from Group Chat. I'm using NCH's freebie 'Scribe' software, as it happily plays MP3 files, supports our pedals, and we won't need to buy extra copies for users that want to transcribe from home when we next get snowed in come December. This is the other problem with SpeechExec Pro editions - at about £150 per license, this would still turn in to an expensive solution.

So for now, that is our solution. I thank you both highly for your valuable input on this matter. Personally, I think the market is wide open for someone producing a cheaper dictation / transcription workflow app and framework, as this is an area that is very lacking for anyone but the big guns. the few cheap products out there simply don't work.

Thanks guys, much obliged, and sorry again for my delays :)
Hi, Bluemercury,

There are some feature differences between the Pro and Standard differences, but the majority of the instructions in those PDF's should hold for both though. I don't have a list on hand of the differences, but IIRC the notifications are missing from Transcribe and you can't add extra mapped folders, or something similar. You should still be able to get it to work the way you need it to. It would be worth double checking the Sub folder visibility setting for the folder in question (Right click on it -> Folder Properties  and look at Show Subfolders and Show All dictations).

Refreshing should happen automatically, any new jobs should appear pretty much straight away. You can force a refresh by hitting F5, or the refresh button on the toolbar. They've made some changes to they way this works in  the V7.1 patch, which you should be able to install by going to Settings -> General Settings -> Updates -> Check Now. Failing that, your supplier should be able to get you a copy of the relevant updates. You should only need the patch if you are having issues with the refresh working correctly.
bluemercuryAuthor Commented:
Hi Guys. Sorry for not commenting further sooner. This whole project got a bit abandoned again for a bit, whilst I had to focus on some more pressing issues.

sbsnz - you were completely on the button. I don't know what I did wrong before, or perhaps it was because I was stuck with an older release of SpeechExec at the time. I very recently tried 7.1 of the non-pro versions of both Dictate & Transcribe, and managed to link the default folders to underpinning shared folders no problem. This was exactly as you described :)

The shared folder structure is just based on an SMB Share on a Windows server, and in 7.1 there is even an option to request the interval at which to refresh (I have gone with the 30 second default value). It works an absolute charm - and I can't thank you enough for encouraging me to persevere with this route.

In light of this, I have abandoned Lync Group Chat, as it was a pain to get running (and keep running) and never quite did a perfect job. The SpeechExec setup is now working a charm, and the report back for users is they are very happy with it, having already done about 40 transcriptions of letters.

The only downside is that SpeechExec won't run in a Remote Desktop session - sbsnz would you happen to know if the Pro version supports this?

I know points have already been awarded, but wanted to come back and say a sincere thanks for your advice, it's very appreciated.

Best wishes,

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