Most people in corporate environments (and especially in the likes of legal practices) are very familiar with the idea of dictation machines.
Lawyers are often highly paid, by the hour, and more often than not can't type (or can't type as fast as they can speak). So they dictate their letters, traditionally onto tape, and then get a secretary or typing pool to type the letters. They are then given back to be signed.
Digital Dicatation is just a new method of performing the same thing.
Instead of dictating onto a tape, the Lawyer dictates directly into his computer. This is often done using a microphone-handset that resembles a traditional handheld dictation machine, with "Play", "Record", "Forward", "Back" etc buttons on it. It also has a small loudspeaker so the Lawyer can listen back to what (s)he has dictated. Once they have completed the dictation, they simply give it a name and press a button to send it off.
There are also standalone machines made that look almost identical to old-style tape machines (albeit with solid state memory), that are then docked into a PC. These allow the dictator to work in other locations, and upload all his work when he returns to the office.
At the other end is a typing pool. But rather than listening to tapes on a machine, their headsets plug directly into their computers. The dictations pop up as soon as the Lawyer has finished, and can be typed and printed or E-Mailed back.
So what are the advantages?
- It's faster. As soon as the Lawyer has finished dictating, the typing can start. No waiting for tapes to be carried around.
- Better quality (depending on settings) of the recorded speech - and especially no deterioration of the tapes over time.
- Management advantages.
- The Lawyer can specify who should receive all his dictations, and whether some are "confidential".
- Management can monitor who types the fastest, which dictations are left in the queue longest etc.
- High priority dictations can be flagged up on the system.
- Perhaps the killer application: This can work over the Internet. So a multi-office firm can have a single typing pool in one building. People dictate in all the offices, with the dictations being sent electronically to the central typing pool (no need for tapes to be couriered / posted). They are typed and then E-Mailed back to the dictator to be printed out and signed.
And the disadvantages?
- New technology - some people don't like change (although my office has legal secretaries who have been working for 30+ years who have adjusted over the years to wordprocessors from typewriters, and this from conventional dictation).
- Loss of services due to connection or other IT problems.
Never-the-less, this is no doubt the way to go.
One of the market leaders in the UK is BigHand with their "TotalSpeech" product. I don't work for BigHand, however, we have people dictating into their system in 4 offices and typing in 2 offices. The system works (although it can be slightly tempremental occasionally) and supports a few clever tricks such as dictating via Terminal Server (makes life easy over the Internet). And although it is tempremental, their telephone support is excellent and has always been able to resolve any issues quickly and efficiently.