My best friend Joshua Edwards went through and transcribed the Stenograph Town Hall for us. To be completely open and honest, I’m not ready to produce a commentary on the matter that would be worth reading, but I believe in the free flow of information, so I’m releasing the transcript publicly.
First, I’ll provide a download of a PDF version of the transcription. Then I’ll embed the video Stenograph posted. Then I’ll put the plain text underneath it. Unfortunately, copy and pasting loses some of the formatting and even causes an error with my blog if I use the “>>” in the original PDF, so the best reading experience will be the PDF.
Thank you, Joshua Edwards, for making this release possible.
Stenograph Town Hall
May 31, 2023
6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST
- DAN DENOFSKY: Just as people are filing in we just want to welcome everybody and we’re going to start here in about a minute. Let any people come in that are still trying to join. So just want to give about another 30 seconds as we get more people joining this town hall. Start in just a minute.
Okay, I think we will begin now. So good evening, everyone. My name is Dan Denofsky and I’m the Vice President of Marketing at Stenograph. I’m joined here tonight by Anir Dutta, president of Stenograph, and Michelle McLaughlin, the Vice President of Steno Sales.
First I would like to thanks everyone for spending their time with us today as we discuss Stenograph’s strategy, state of the industry, and our position in the market place. On behalf of Stenograph, I want to assure you that stenographers are an integral part of our current and future strategy. We are here tonight because we value your input. Without stenographers, there would be no Stenograph. We are committed to our mission of empowering the capture, preservation, and accessibility of the verbatim record.
These are the words of our mission statement, and they are emblazoned on the wallets, several walls of our office in Downers Grove, Illinois. And I welcome any of you who find yourself in Downers Grove, stop in and we will show you around.
We have over a hundred employees that come to work every day with this mission in mind, to support you, our steno customers. We indeed want to make your lives easier and better as we work towards this common mission.
Also I would like to introduce the format for tonight’s meeting. First we will address all of the questions that came up in the recent petition online. Second, we have set this time for this town hall to accommodate as many schedules and time zones as possible. I know that given that we didn’t want it to end too late on the East Coast or begin too early on the West Coast, it was impossible to accommodate everyone’s schedule. And we appreciate that. But for the sake of those who cannot attend this event live, we are recording it and we will make the recording available to all registered attendees.
Third, in addition to the questions that came in via the petition, we have been asking customers since last Monday evening to send in their questions, and we have got a lot of questions. There’s been a lot to sort through, and we have also enabled the online Q&A feature at the bottom of your screen on the Zoom screen. So if you have a question that comes up during the town hall meeting, please submit your question through the Q&A feature.
We intend to get through as many questions as we possibly can in the time that we put on our calendar. Some of the question that is came in via e-mail we summarized because of the similarity of questions. But I assure you we are trying to stay as true as possible to the original intent of the question because we don’t want anything to be lost in translation.
So now I will introduce my fellow panelists for tonight’s town hall, Anir Dutta, president of Stenograph. He’s very eager to share his vision for the future and answer all of the questions that we have tonight. Michelle McLaughlin, she’s our Vice President of Steno Sales. Michelle and I will be moderating tonight’s town hall, and we will be asking your questions of Anir and of each other throughout the course of the evening. So let’s begin. And Michelle, can you introduce yourself and say a few words.
- MICHELLE McLAUGHLIN: Absolutely. Thank you, Dan. I’m Michelle McLaughlin. I’m, as Dan said, Stenograph’s Vice President of Steno Sales. I have been with Stenograph since 2008. So I’m in my 15th year here. I manage a team of 15 sales people across the country who are dedicated solely to serving stenographers. The experience that our team brings is unmatched in this industry. Most of our team members have been with Stenograph for over 20 years and several have been stenographers themselves.
Prior to coming to work for Stenograph, I personally worked as a freelance realtime stenographer in California. As a stenographer myself, I want to say I do understand the fear that some of us have that technology may some day evolve and replace us, something that I know I heard as far back as the ’80s when I was looking to start stenography school.
That concern, however, runs up against a powerful truth that stenographers condition to possess a skill that is unparalleled and unquestionably results in the most accurate method of record capture. I understand firsthand the pride in that skill and in delivering the highest quality transcript.
I want to assure that you the continued success of stenography is as important to my team and to me as it is to all of you. Anir, did you want to say a few words before we begin the Q&A?
- ANIR DUTTA: Sure, thank you, Michelle. And thank you, everybody, for joining this town hall. I look forward very much to answer most of the questions, all the questions if possible that have come through and will come through as we progress through this event. But first I just want to apologize for some of my comments on social media. I let my emotions get the better of me, and my commitment to you is that I will do better.
With that, let me talk a little bit about Stenograph’s strategy, the state of the industry. Look, we are in an industry where there are a few challenges, right. And as a company, we are on a journey.
However, stenography as a profession and stenographers as a customer bass are very much part of that journey. And we have to talk about as we talk about the industry, some growing demand in the number of pages and the volume of pages. And in many geographies, people are not really finding enough practitioners, enough stenographers to cover the jobs.
However, I just want to assure all of you that stenography will remain, has been, will remain a key part of our strategy moving forward. With that, I want to turn it over to Dan so that he can ask me some of the questions. I will be as transparent as possible. That’s my commitment to you today.
- DAN: Thank you, Anir. We appreciate that view. So we did want to get right into the questions again, some of them from the petition, some of them from what we hear from the audience tonight. The first question, Anir, for you, is your effects seems to be or to have fully shifted towards digital with steno a distant afterthought. Would you consider this to be a true statement?
- ANIR: I will answer the question very directly. The answer is no. In fact, Stenograph continues to invest a significant amount of resources both manpower, technical know-how and investments in stenography. Our goal and that’s truly the case is that we want to bring cutting-edge technology so that stenographers can use that technology to be the best in what they do which is provide a highly, highly accurate verbatim record.
So that is our strategy. In addition to that we are diversifying which means we have to meet the market needs in many parts of the country where there are not enough practitioners available to cover the job. So I will give you a few examples of this. When I first joined Stenograph, I remember me and Michelle went to Southern California, San Diego, and we met a stenographer, Jennifer.
And I remember clearly asking her what we could do better so that we could do better in her job, in CATalyst. She’s a CATalyst user. And the answer I got was that she needed more training because she only utilized a small percentage of all the features available in CATalyst at that time.
We took that feedback. We came back in and we worked with our training folks, great folks like Cindi and we created Ascend which is our online on-demand training platform. We have also provided that content now as part of our Edge contract offering.
In addition to that, we sit through with stenographers a couple of times a year every year to talk about what they really need. And one of the key pieces that all of us realized is that one of the key pieces of producing a transcript is the editing process which is where the germination of Check It came from which is our latest offering in the marketplace that we released a couple of weeks ago.
So we are listening to stenographers every day. We continue to invest in writer technology. We have continue to provide writers to stenographers. We, in fact, shipped over the last three years more than 7,000 writers, professional writers plus student writers in an environment where supply chain has been a true challenge, where, you know, if you go and try to buy a car, you will see that chips are in shortage.
We have tried all methods available at our disposal and our parent company’s disposal to make sure that we keep that supply going. Even sometimes in the face of almost 1,000 percent in cost increases, which we never passed onto our customer. So the point I’m trying to make here is simple. Stenographers and stenography remain a core piece of our strategy, and we are diversifying so that we can address market needs in geographies.
I have traveled up and down the country and I have met small agencies, three or four people, five people in an agency, owned by a stenographer, employ stenographers, but they just don’t have enough in the area to cover their jobs. We as a company have to listen to that side of the market as well, and that’s why we diversify. But it is not as a replacement of stenography. It is not at the expense of stenography. It is in addition to our commitment to stenographer.
- MICHELLE: Anir, I would just like to add on one thought to that which is the importance of this diversification is that it also ensures the health and viability of Stenograph so that we can continue to be here to serve you to make writers to make software and to support the products that we provided to you over the last many years.
- ANIR: Yeah. That’s a great point, Michelle. I agree with you.
- MICHELLE: On that note, the next question, Anir, is why isn’t there more showcasing of the huge enrollment of steno students country-wide at steno schools and the 703 new reporters California has gained since the Ducker study?
- ANIR: Yeah. Fantastic question. Look, there are a lot of bright spots in the industry. And there are a lot of challenges. My belief is that it is in the best interest of Stenograph that more and more stenographers are out there in the marketplace. I want to congratulate all of those seven hundred new stenographers that were added in California since that study. I wish sincerely that there were 1400 or 1,500 that could have joined, right.
So one thing I want to make very clear to everybody is that Stenograph gains every time there are more stenographers in the marketplace. I want all of you to understand that we are the largest supplier of professional writers, student writers, student software and CAT software.
So it is in our best interest to see more and more stenographers out there in the marketplace. We do not make decisions based on any studies or what people study. We talk to customers. We go visit customers. I personally do that and we hear things that stenographers are saying. We also hear things that small, medium, large agency also saying in certain geographies where they are just not able to fulfill their calendars.
And what we are doing as a technology provider is to address all needs. It is by no means at the cost of anything. It is absolutely in support of the entire industry that we are investing and that’s the basis of our future strategy.
- DAN: Thanks for talking about our investment. There’s another question, Anir. We have not seen productive software updates in quite some time. What is in the pipeline for supporting and updating the hardware and software stenographers utilize?
- ANIR: Yeah, I feel that that’s a fair criticism. You know, look, we have been working on a lot of different thing for CATalyst. Of course we haven’t been able to to release anything, and that’s a fair criticism. The reason for that is not because we have taken away resources from CATalyst or taken away resources from working on stenographic technology.
I will tell that you the level of accuracy and the level of quality that is expected out of a technology provider like Stenograph is bar none, right. Nobody else can meet that expectation. And so when we release products and features for the stenographic market or for our core customer base, the stenographers, we put a premium on the quality that we provide.
And so that takes more time to develop. You know, as an example we have been working on Check It for a couple of years. And we ran into trouble. When we released Check It, it looked like we were late and we did not prioritize it. But that’s the farthest from the truth. It takes time to tune new features and new products for the needs, for the demanding needs of stenographers. And that’s really the reason why there have been delays. Like I said, it was a fair criticism. I will assure everybody that we have a full roadmap of updates, upgrades, et cetera, that are in the pipeline.
One of our key learnings, and we are learning as we go through, is that customers are used to one big upgrade once a year. What we are feeling now is that we should bring more features more often to customers so that they don’t have to wait a full year before they get one big upgrade. So we will do more updates and upgrades throughout the year as a strategy moving forward so that customers can get access to some of these key features much earlier than what we have done in the past.
- DAN: I just want to add on as kind of an anecdote on Check It. We went into beta a couple of times on that product. And during the first beta test, the users came back and said wait a minute, you got to do this and this and this. And they gave us like three specific things that you have to add. And the difference between the second beta than the first beta was pretty dramatic. So I’m glad we took the time to do that. It made it a much better product.
- ANIR: And again just to add onto that, Dan, Stenograph has never been known for getting the first thing out in the market. And that’s not because we don’t prioritize or we don’t have enough resources to work on features or technology for stenographers. That’s just how much more effort and quality premium we put on feature sets and functionality and hardware that we release to our core customer base.
- DAN: But I’m really glad to hear about the upcoming CATalyst releases. So that’s great news.
- MICHELLE: I will take the next question. I think it would be best directed to you, Dan. Why is Stenograph only and openly promoting and marketing digital reporting considering that we’ve talked about stenography being at the heart of what we do?
- DAN: Yeah. That’s right, stenography is at the heart. Yeah. I can understand the discomfort when stenographers see advertising for products that are not directed towards stenographers. So I get that. Stenograph, as Anir mentioned earlier, has diversified and we launched a product that will help address shortages and in specific geographic areas. I can assure you when a stenographer is available, they are definitely the ultimate of skill and accuracy. And we certainty agree with that.
I can tell you from our marketing mix that actually the majority of the social media and e-mail, blogs, advertising, et cetera, are actually geared towards stenographers. I can see why maybe it doesn’t seem like that because of the other messaging isn’t popular. But I will tell you that the majority of our marketing messaging is geared towards stenographers. And our district sales managers as Michelle and your team work with the marketing team to create content that is specific to the steno community, hopefully you are receiving those e-mails from your local rep as well as from Stenograph. But I take that feedback to heart and will make sure that we make our marketing messaging as strong as we can for stenographers.
- MICHELLE: Thank you, Dan. Anir, this next question is one that we received from the audience. And I think it is one that we’ve come up — hear a lot. Is Stenograph using monies earned through stenography to fund ASR development?
- ANIR: No, we are not. All of our earnings from continuing operations go back into investing into stenography, whether that is R&D dollars on software that is R&D dollars on writer technology, or whether that’s hiring more support and customer-facing individuals to support our customers in the field. We do not use, you know, I would say earnings that are generated from one side of the business to fund the other side of the business. I will tell you that we are blessed with a very, very — we’re a very I would say parent company, very big parent company that is invested in us, is invested in keeping Stenograph strong, and has invested in our new technologies like special recognition.
The point of this is I would say that we are bringing speech recognition to stenographers. And it is not something that we’ve borrowed from Apple or Google or Microsoft. We have built our own engine so we that we can continue to better it, right, and provide better products for stenographers and other professions that we support.
So the point of this is we are not channelling one side, monies from one side of the business to fund the other.
- DAN: Anir, I have a follow-up question that I saw come in that’s represented. But what percentage of your efforts is focused on continue to go develop cutting-edge products for stenographers?
- ANIR: Look, 80 percent of our employees and resources are working on stenography, like I said. We have significantly increased the number of R&D resources on stenography whether that’s software, that’s hardware. It’s dozens of people that are work okay stenography-related projects from an R&D perspectives. I would also say that we are utilizing resources that are in speech recognition to also bring products to stenographers, an example being Check It. So I truly believe that we are doing absolutely everything to make sure that we continue to support the profession.
I acknowledge that it doesn’t seem so from the outside, but that again I reiterate is because it takes time and effort and extreme quality and accuracy for us to release something in the marketplace, because we cannot have our product be out there and is not perform when our customers need it the most.
- MICHELLE: Thank you, Anir. This next question I think you’ve answered a lot of, but I am going to go ahead and pose it to you. Who are the people or departments within Stenograph focused on stenographers, and who is your top developer for stenographic technology?
- ANIR: Yeah. This is where I have to be very honest with you. I cannot disclose names of developers, et cetera. But I will tell you that there are dozens and dozens of people that are working on stenographic products in R&D, whether that’s speech recognition, whether that’s CATalyst, whether that is CaseViewNet, whether that’s continuing to innovate on the writers, continue to make sure that we update the parts that go into the writers so that we can successfully procure some of these chips that may go obsolete because of what’s going on in the global supply chain. So the point of this is it’s really not important about whether there’s one person, a named person. We are a team, and we work as a team to support the profession.
- MICHELLE: I think I would like to add on to that and say that it’s important to know that we have a nice mix of new talent as well as developers that have been here for a very long time and continue to bring that history of Stenograph’s products and be able to provide that context into the new products.
- DAN: Yeah. I would add onto that, just in the years I have been at Stenograph I have seen, for example, the R&D department grow. And that’s been a good mix of people that have been here long tenure and people with new skills and talents. So it’s been a pretty interesting time.
Anir, I have another question for you, and I think it’s somewhat similar. Is Stenograph’s focus on software development split evenly between ASR and stenography? Is this split expected to change in favor of one or the other in the upcoming years?
- ANIR: No. The answer is no, it’s not going to change. But it is — what I’m saying is, you know, we have parallel tracks on all of the product lines, right. And we leverage our core technology like the writer technology, like CATalyst, like special recognition across professions, right. So the point of this is we have a vast number of people that are working on stenography projects.
And I would argue even there are less number of people that are working on other projects in the long run. So that’s my answer to that question. I feel like we are doing what we can to get the right products and the right quality out in the market for stenographers.
- DAN: So here is another question. I think it came from the petition. But near and dear to our heart, why are your servers always having disconnect issues?
- ANIR: Yeah. So I think let’s get back to the pandemic, because the issues with CaseViewNet really surfaced during the pandemic. Look, we had an architecture with CaseViewNet that was — predated the pandemic. I think it was in the 2017-2018 time frame when we first launched that product. You know, with the pandemic and with the amount of online depositions and realtime, et cetera, just ballooning up, we saw increased number of people coming on simultaneously onto an infrastructure that was just not ready to handle that. I have no problem acknowledging that.
So the CaseViewNet I think the question is pertaining to connection/reconnection, at that time, it was crashing pretty regularly, right. And I know and, you know, I have a lot of personal friends that are stenographers that give me this input on a daily basis most importantly our beta testers, of the amount of problems that that causes. Even one crash is one too many, right. So we have been working steadfastly over the last couple of years because this is a huge project. It’s not something that can be done in two weeks. We have been working steadfastly to improve the reliability of CaseViewNet.
I’m also aware when we started doing that, there were some issues related to connection/reconnection. Now, before this town hall I went over and talked to our support team and asked them about this issue. And they said it was an issue; however, and if you haven’t seen this yet you will see this shortly, but most of the connection/reconnection issues have gone away. Our crashes, we haven’t had a crash in the last couple of months.
That doesn’t mean we can declare victory. We are still working on many things on CaseViewNet and you will hear shortly about what we are doing and how we are improving it for the long term. But the point I’m trying to make is again we are working on CaseViewNet. We just didn’t abandon CaseViewNet and let it crash or let it have connection/reconnection. We are actively working on it every day so that we can provide a quality product that is synonymous with our brand to stenographers in the marketplace.
- MICHELLE: Yeah, I think it’s important to note that myself having been a realtime reporter, I understand that every second that you are down feels like one second too long. The uptime of CaseViewNet is very, very high, but like I understand, I understand that that downtime, any downtime is too much. So we have taken this very seriously and are putting the development in to make sure we can accommodate the increase in and load of CaseViewNet. Anir, here is another question that’s come in. Why are support hold times so long?
- ANIR: Yeah, so look. We take a lot of calls, just to give you some example, we took close to 15,000 calls in the first quarter of this year. Our internal metrics are that hold time for warranty and Edge customers is anywhere, the average, between three minutes to six minutes. But that doesn’t mean that there will be occasions where the hold times would not be more than that, right. I acknowledge that. We as all of you know there is a severe labor shortage to find technically savvy people in the marketplace in the U.S. labor market.
We are not one company that outsources our call center offshore. We hire locally. We hire good technical people to support our customers because that’s what our customers expect. And with new talent, there is a learning curve, right. I acknowledge the question, and I commit to you that we will try to do better; however, I will tell you that 15,000 calls, the average hold time is between three to six minutes for Edge customers who are prioritized and warranty customers who are also prioritized.
- DAN: Yeah. There’s a related question to that that I can see here. Why are your reps unable to fix our issues or say we don’t support that?
- ANIR: Yeah, you know, there are like in any team, there are experienced folks and then there are people that are new and they are learning. And so I would say that I have had many instances where customers have said very good things about our support reps, and I have had instances where, you know, customers are not so happy. I will just say it’s a learning process. It’s a process we’re working very hard to train our new employees so that they can, you know, meet your expectations and the quality of service you need on a regular basis.
- MICHELLE: I think we can all acknowledge this is, you know, such an niche industry and that, you know, training new techs does require, is an intense process in order to get them to the level that they need to be at to really support you. We take that seriously and are doing our very best to get there.
Dan, can you outline specifically what customers are getting with their annual support contract, their Edge contract?
- DAN: Yeah, so Edge contracts are the contracts for CATalyst software support. There are five pillars associated with Edge contracts. Before this year there was four. Now there is five. So the first four are number one, priority access to technical support like Anir just mentioned, warranty and Edge customers he just mentioned their holds times. Our phone system is able to detect whether or not someone is an Edge customer or warranty customer or not and gives priority access to Edge customers. So that’s number one.
Number two is Real Team. Most of you know what Real Team is, kind of revolutionized the industry, simultaneous editing and collaboration during a realtime proceeding. Cloud backup is the third pillar. You get a hundred gigabytes of cloud storage with your Edge contract. You have the option to purchase more.
The fourth one is software updates for the latest version of CATalyst. And as Anir mentioned, we will be coming out with new versions of CATalyst. And number one is one we added this year. I think, Anir, you mentioned traveling with Michelle to San Diego and how important training was to our customers. And that’s why we have Cindi Lynch and Ascend. We wanted to make this training available to all of our — some of this training available to our Edge customers.
So we put training videos and articles on Catalyst Academy available for all Edge users. So there’s over 150 training videos, and over two hundred articles about how to do things with CATalyst. So those are the five things you get for your Edge support contract.
- ANIR: And the latest and greatest version of CATalyst.
- DAN: Yeah, that was the fourth thing I mentioned.
- MICHELLE: Yeah, we’re very excited about the launch of CATalyst Academy and being able to offer that training as a part of your annual support agreement in order to really be able to utilize all the features in CATalyst that are available to you.
One thing I wanted to note on priority access to Edge is that it’s very important in order to be able to take advantage of that priority access if you are an Edge customer to either call from the number you have on your account, or if you are not calling from that number, to have your customer number ready so that the system can recognize you as having an active Edge agreement.
Anir, this is a question again that’s come up multiple times. Can you provide transparency of any alignment and participation with organizations such as AAERT, STTI, FTR, et cetera?
- ANIR: Yeah. So first of all I’m just going to say one thing before I explain AAERT and others. Look, I’m no longer on the boards of STTI. I’m not the vice president of that organization anymore. As far as AAERT is concerned, look, we support NCRA. We support AAERT. They represent organizations that cater to different sets of practitioners that we provide solutions to. It’s however we support NCRA is the same way we will support AAERT.
I feel that as a technology provider that caters to all segments of the market which is our diversification and supporting the core strategy, we have to support industry organizations. We also support state organizations. We are at all the state shows. We are the biggest vendor presence at NCRA. And we support AAERT. So that’s — that’s my answer to that. For the Record is a (audio issue) company that is in the court systems. We have no affiliation with them.
- MICHELLE: Thank you, I would add to that that having traveled with my reps and been a rep myself that it’s not unusual for Stenograph to be the only vendor at one of our state associations. So we really are very committed to continuing to have a presence and to support our stenographic associations. Let’s see.
- DAN: We have a related question, Michelle.
- MICHELLE: Okay.
- DAN: Why do you sponsor AAERT’s manual meeting?
- ANIR: Yeah, like I said, I reiterate we support NCRA’s convention. We are the biggest presence there. We support AAERT. As far as I know, according to NCRA they are not going to have a business forum anymore or it was called Firm Owners earlier. But, you know, again we support all industry organizations that are here to cater to practitioners in many different segments of the marketplace.
- DAN: I think on the petition I saw another question very close to that. Why has Stenograph abandoned their presence at NCRA and no longer sponsored the NCRA’s business’s summit as you just mentioned?
- ANIR: Of course. On the contrary not only have we not abandoned, we are the largest presence as a technology provider at NCRA. We do training classes for practitioners during NCRA. We support the NCRF, the Foundation. We support A to Z students that are graduating out of the A to Z program. We support Project Steno. NCRA’s business summit like I said before, according to their board has been suspended, maybe temporarily. If they open up we will reconsider. But again, want to make sure that everybody understands we have a huge presence at NCRA.
- DAN: As VP of marketing I will tell you we have the largest presence at NCRA and by far the largest booth and will continue to sponsor events at the national and state shows as well, but the national convention, yeah, we’re there.
- MICHELLE: Yes. We bring a huge team with us. We are looking forward to doing so again this year and to seeing as many of you as possible in Houston.
- DAN: Yeah.
- MICHELLE: Dan, as VP of marketing, can you address why Stenograph has discontinued ads in the JCR?
- DAN: Yeah, this is a good question. We do advertise less in the JCR than we have in the past. We’re always evaluating our marketing mix between print and online and things like that. Last year we did advertise in the JCR. We had a Luminex II testimonial that featured Rick Greenspan. So, yeah, I mean, going in order we will continue to consider advertising in the JCR as part of our mar. Con., or marketing communications, mix.
- MICHELLE: Thank you, Dan. Anir, is Stenograph funded by the companies or organizations on STAR’s board who actively promote digital?
- ANIR: I think I want to address this very clearly. STAR is Stenograph’s user group, right. And so STAR doesn’t fund Stenograph. Nobody funds Stenograph except our parent company. STAR is a great organization with, you know, a very I would say talented group of stenographers that are high-powered users of Stenograph products that started STAR and continue to be part of that. At STAR events, you know, there’s training classes on all the latest and great of the technology that Stenograph provides. It’s a great networking event. It’s great event to have open and honest conversation about the state of the industry, our challenges, how to navigate some of those challenges.
In addition to that, look, Stenograph has diversified. That’s — we are open about it. We have diversified into other areas of the marketplace. And so as a result of that, it’s natural that STAR as the user group of Stenograph has to represent all segments of customer for Stenograph. And so that opens that organization to other methods. When we did not have products in any other method, STAR was stenographic only. As we have diversified, we are continuing to promote the stenographic products there and we’ve added on other products, not as a replacement, but as an addition.
- MICHELLE: Thank you, Anir. Dan, customers are told by their reps that they are a priority, but they never see promotional videos, ads, podcasts, the gold standard stenographer showcasing their remarkable skills. Can you explain this?
- DAN: I agree. Stenographers have remarkable skills. And if we need to do a better job of highlighting that, I take that feedback to heart. I know that I’ve seen feedback that when you see an ad for MaxScribe for a podcast highlighting another product or business partnership that could be unnerving. I did say earlier that the majority of our marketing is focused on stenography. If you look at all of our social media posts and e-mail marketing and advertising, it is still very much focused on stenography.
We do have testimonials and marketing materials that talk about the value of stenography and highlight specific stenographers because we have some great stenographers using Luminex II and we would like to sell more Luminex II and they use CATalyst and it’s great software. But I like the suggestion about highlighting the unique skills set that stenographers have. I think it’s a great idea. So, you know, in terms of quality and accuracy, you know, stenographers are renowned and we should highlight that. So I will bring that feedback to my team in marketing. And we will see if we can maybe change up the way we promote stenographers’ skills set, highlighting that skills set mentioned in the question. So thank you.
- MICHELLE: Thanks, Dan. There are major recruitment efforts occurring country-wide with NCRA, state associations and individual stenographers to get the younger generation excited about enrolling in steno schools and getting students into top-notch steno programs addressing any shortage. And they are successful. What is Stenograph doing to promote stenography? Stenographers are in high schools and trade schools making presentations, representations, showcasing steno to the next generation and want to ensure vendors are truly supporting new and veteran stenographers. Dan, can you speak to that?
- DAN: Yeah. I saw that question in the petition. Great question because we really do get excited when we see more young people entering the profession. We get very excited working with Project Steno and NCRA, A to Z program in their recruitment efforts. And we support their efforts to get more students into steno schools. Over the past five years we’ve provided over 750 student rentals, student writer rentals. We are offering free student software to Project Steno graduates of their basic training program and we’ve similar arrangement with the NCRA A to Z program.
And CATalyst Academy offers — we offer membership to CATalyst Academy so that they can view the training videos as well. And they can see the tips and tricks documents that we put on CATalyst Academy. I just, you know, again remember it does us good when there’s more students in schools. It would be great to have more students graduating, more certified stenographers. We’re doing a lot to support — oh, I didn’t mention last year we gave fifty writers to Project Steno so that they could loan to students.
So there’s — we would love to do more to help with their recruitment efforts. We have gotten involved a little bit with their outreach into high schools. So, yeah, that’s really important for us.
- MICHELLE: I think it’s safe to say no one loves stenographers more than Stenograph, right?
- DAN: Yeah. Okay, I think this question came from the audience. Anir, this one will be for you. Is Stenograph considering a name change to be more representative of its offered services and products?
- ANIR: No, because we offer stenography as a solution. We do offer other solutions, but no, we’re not changing our name. I mean, I got this question even two, three years ago when we did our branding change. Look, like I said, I want to reiterate, stenography remains a core suppose of our move-forward strategy. So I don’t see a need for to us change our name. So the answer is no.
- DAN: We would have to buy new shirts. We don’t want to do that for sure.
- MICHELLE: Anir, on that note, does Stenograph forecast a time when it will move away from stenography entirely and if so, when?
- ANIR: No. I feel that stenography will continue to be a core piece of our business for a very long time. At least in our planning horizon, five, ten years, we don’t see that happening. I think everybody should understand that the core challenge with this market is how can we get more stenographers out there? Right. It’s not Stenograph’s product roadmap. It is how can we get more stenographers out there?
And as long as there are more stenographers out there and continue to be out there, Stenograph is going to be there to support stenography. So I don’t see that going away. I wish very hard that people would take a look at how we can get more students out that are qualified to do stenography.
- MICHELLE: Right. I think that’s a situation of kind of all hands on deck. It’s not only on Stenograph. It’s on our state and national associations. It’s the schools. It’s individual stenographers, all of us to work together as a community to do everything we can to bring more stenographers into the industry.
- DAN: And back to the question, does Stenograph forecast a time when it will move away from Stenograph? Why? No. If stenography is going to be around, we have been around for 85 years. I believe stenography will be around for another 85 years. And I hope — I won’t be here at that time, but I certainly expect that we will be continuing to support stenographers at that time.
Okay, another question that came from the audience. Anir, what is Stenograph’s opinion surrounding the ethical concerns on the development of ASR technology to be used as a substitute and/or supplement for stenography?
- ANIR: Yeah. I think there are a couple of key points here that I want to address. In terms of concerns, ethical concerns, I think there are two areas. One, is speech recognition a substitute for a well-trained practitioner? The answer is no. Speech recognition is not a substitute. It’s a tool that is available to practitioners to create best record, the most accurate verbatim record that is possible. It’s a tool. It’s not a replacement. That’s number one.
The number two concern which I think is more prevalent in the marketplace and as you look at what’s being said about artificial intelligence or special recognition is data privacy, right. And so one thing I want to make very clear is that Stenograph is complying with all data standards whether that’s CCPA, GDPR, or local or federal data privacy laws which means that we are ethically and legally bound not to use any data. We don’t even get to look at that data, right.
We get the data. The engine processes it and deletes it. We don’t ever see data that we get. Right. And so as we look at data privacy and we look at compliance moving forward in this new world of data privacy and very strict jurisdictions and laws, as we look at ISO compliance and SOC 2 compliance which we are pursuing as a strategy, we have to be absolutely clear and provide proof that we are not flouting any of these norms.
So it’s in Stenograph’s best interest to make sure that this technology is provided in a way where it is ethical and, B, more important, provides a viable tool for all practitioners to provide the best, most accurate verbatim record. And look, voice writers use ASR as well, right. So I feel very strongly that we have to look at speech recognition for what it is. It’s not a replacement. It’s a supplement and it’s there as a tool. It’s on the practitioner’s voice whether they want to use it or not use it.
- DAN: Anir, I want to ask — I’m sorry, go ahead, Michelle.
- MICHELLE: Go ahead.
- DAN: Okay. I just saw, like, in the Q&A here several people asking the same question. I think you answered it within that question. I just want to make it crystal clear again. People asking do we use their data to train the ASR engine?
- ANIR: We are legally bound not to use anybody’s data. That’s the bottom line.
- DAN: So we do not use any of that customer data.
- ANIR: Not only do we not use. We don’t even see the data.
- DAN: Yeah, okay. Okay.
- MICHELLE: I was just going to mention that it is interesting, Anir, that you brought up voice because voice a few years ago to many stenographers was seen kind of as the new kid on the block and something that we weren’t sure we were comfortable with. But as time has rolled on we realized that they are coming in and filling a need for this massive need and this additional amount of transcription that’s necessary. And so this is the same with these new products. It’s not something that’s going to replace the stenographer. It’s simply to fill a growing need. And we are here to support all, first and foremost, our stenographers, the core of our business.
- ANIR: And I can’t repeat this enough and reiterate this enough. There is no threat to stenography from any new technology. What stenographers need to focus on and industry organizations, leadership in those organizations need to focus on is how do we get more stenographers out in the marketplace? That is the crux of the situation we are in in this market. Very open and very honest with all of you.
- MICHELLE: And we are here to help with those needs. If there’s anything that Stenograph can do to help with those recruitments, to help with technology that may help students to get out of school more quickly to get more stenographers into the industry to bring more students into the schools, we are open and here for that.
- ANIR: Yeah.
- DAN: Okay, I am going to bring up a question that came in via the e-mail. If the goal of Stenograph has not been to transfer the work of stenographers to digital recording, why has Stenograph remained silent until now?
- ANIR: Yeah. I can answer the question. I may have been silent externally, but I’m very vocal internally about our need to focus on the core piece of our business. And so the message you hear from the reps and from Michelle’s female and other customer-facing individuals are things that we talk about internally. I just want to reiterate that internally our messaging and our direction is quite clear. We have to maintain multiple lines of business separately without defocusing on any one in favor of another. That’s the message. That’s the resourcing. That’s the R&D dollars. That’s the investment. That’s the direction of the company.
We are no way, even if I haven’t spoken publicly in the past, I can assure you right now here that we are not replacing or prioritizing stenography below any other product line in our business. We have to become a broader company, a bigger company so that we can support multiple market segments of the industry.
- MICHELLE: I think I would like to add onto that as far as the cause of the staying silent. The Stenograph representatives on my team that are dispersed throughout the country have been very vocal in delivering this message. And they are the faces of Stenograph. We are the faces of Stenograph. So when we’re delivering these messages, we are delivering them on behalf of Stenograph. I always like to say to my customers I’m Stenograph because each of us take that pride and ownership of our company of our place in the company and of our place in helping you, our customers.
We have done a few videos that we’ve put out to highlight some of our contributions to supporting stenography. And we are committed to showcasing the credit talent of modern-day stenographers and your contribution to the legal system. And as Dan mentioned, I think we are happy to kind of put a new focus on highlighting your skills a little bit more in addition to the marketing videos on our products.
- DAN: Yeah. We don’t want to be silent. That’s for sure, yeah. I can vouch Anir is not silent internally. Anir, I do have a question for you. As the owner of a steno machine speed-building program, what reason should I give my students who is our potential customers to purchase Stenograph’ goods and services when a portion of the money that they give to Stenograph will be going towards promoting digital services which would undercut their own future employment opportunities?
- ANIR: Yeah. Good question, very, very fair. First of all, I want to start by saying you should never tell a new stenographer or a student that is choosing Stenograph that they will be under cut by any other technology. That’s my message to you if you are listening because that’s just not true. Right. That’s number one. Number two, look, Stenograph provides the best software, the best writer in the marketplace. We provide scholarships. We support students from Project Steno. We support students from A to Z program. We support NCRF. We support the state associations.
So I think, you know, it’s up to you whether you want to move them towards Stenograph products or not. But I will tell you one more thing, every writer or CAT vendor in this marketplace — it’s a small market — has a digital product line. I can assure you of that. So the point of this is who is the best company that is best positioned to support the student and to support the new stenographers? And so you make that decision based on those points, right. At the end of the day it is your choice what you tell them. But I will tell you that we do everything to support new stenographers and students.
- MICHELLE: Yeah. We are proud to continue to support stenography. And I think Anir’s mentioning that we have been open and honest about adding these products to our product line. It’s something that can be difficult in a business like this because in putting that out there, we’re subjecting ourselves to some criticism. But our business model is that in which we do want to be open and honest and not be doing things behind your back. So I think that’s really important to take note of the fact that as he said every vendor does have a product. It’s just our choice to be open, honest, and put this out up front to you and reiterate the fact that there’s no reason to fear that coming in and taking anything from you. There is room for everyone and the stenographer will continue to be at the top there because of their high level of accuracy in capturing the record. Anir, does Stenograph have any connection with BlueLedge?
- ANIR: So I think one thing is important to say. Stenograph does not operate schools. Stenograph does have partnerships with or works very, very closely with steno schools, steno-only schools. We work with schools that are providing digital as an option. So, you know, we’re not affiliated to any school, but we do work with schools from all segments of the marketplace to provide students that go to those programs solutions that are from Stenograph.
- MICHELLE: Just to capture the answer to the specific question, are we affiliated with BlueLedge?
- ANIR: We are not affiliated to any one school. We work with all schools across all different methods.
- DAN: I will add onto that if you check our website, we’ve got a listing of steno schools. I think, don’t quote me, but it’s about 70 schools on our website listed. So we’re doing — if people search on the Stenograph website, high school students or people wanting to change careers, we definitely would love them to go to school. We would love them to go to school.
- MICHELLE: Dan, has Stenograph does any research into the number of potential customers in the Open Steno community?
- DAN: No. I can’t say we have done any research into that. Maybe that’s a question for NCRA. They might be able to be better positioned to look into the recruitment of those steno enthusiasts. I don’t have any research into that.
- MICHELLE: Do you have an estimate of approximately how many customers have been lost to retirement per year since 2018?
- DAN: That’s pretty specific. That is a very good question. We also would like to know that. I’m responsible for the strategic plan at Stenograph, and I ask that question often myself. Of course there are studies out there, but no, we know that reporters retire. We can look at the number of inactive customers from our customer list and their demographics and we can guess at the number of retirements. I think the pandemic and the move to remote depositions kind of forestalled some people from retiring. They extended their careers, and we think that’s wonderful. But no, I don’t have a specific number from 2018 or any specific year about how many reporters have retired.
- MICHELLE: Thank you. Anir, can Stenograph commit to creating a ten-year roadmap for the advancement of court reporters?
- ANIR: Yeah. As far as our product roadmap goes, we have a very, like I said earlier, we have a very, very robust pipeline of product that we will release in the future, right, starting this year. You know, the advancement of court reporting is a bigger topic. And Stenograph definitely plays a role. But we can’t do that alone. We need — this industry needs active engagement. And I have said this before in my letter to our customers that this industry needs active engagement from associations with vendors and technology providers so that it’s a collaboration between — and I would say service providers like agencies. So that it’s a collaboration.
Because at the end of the day, technology providers, organizations, industry organizations, stenographic industry organizations, state associations, national associations and the agency market all have to work together to do this. We have to get to a place where there’s a conversation and collaboration. And I think one of the most concerning things for me as CEO of Stenograph is it seems like that conversation has broken down. So my sincere request to all of you is to think about that and work with us. Work with everybody, all stakeholders in the industry to move this profession forward.
- DAN: Just to kind of bolster your comment about the product roadmap, whenever I see the word “roadmap,” I think product roadmap. I can tell you the roadmap for products supporting stenographers is as long as our planning horizon and it’s robust, so…
Anir, I have another question form you. With all the efforts Stenograph is putting into ASR, what assurances can you — can we have that Stenograph won’t just get bought by some big AI/ASR-focused company that will be more than happy to squash the steno component?
- ANIR: Yeah.
- DAN: Verbatim here.
- ANIR: I hear the concern. I can just talk about what we know. Our parent company is very invested in Stenograph, its current and its future in stenography and in other methods. And so I don’t see any future where we are divested or sold off to a big AI company or an ASR company. So I want to assure this person, this customer that there are no such plans in our future or long term or short term.
- DAN: Anir, one of the questions that I saw in the chat here and I think we can answer this, who is our parent company?
- ANIR: Yeah. Our parent company is Heico.
- DAN: Where is Heico based?
- ANIR: Heico is based out of Chicago. And Heico holds 70 different companies all over the world.
- MICHELLE: And I can say as a stenographer I have felt very reassured to hear their confidence in Stenograph and their interest in specifically our enhancements in stenographic technology for our core customers to continue. Let’s see. Anir, with all the efforts Stenograph is putting into ASR — oh, I think we’ve answered that one. Let’s see. Okay, this is an interesting question that’s come up. It’s been said that in Stenograph’s assessment, the state and national test processes keep the number of stenographers entering the market artificially low. What led to that conclusion?
- ANIR: Yeah. I actually — that’s a great question. And I know that I feel very strongly about this. And I have mentioned this to any leader of any state or national association that wants to have a conversation about this with me. Look, we know from our customer base that there are tools that are available to stenographers in the field that they use to cover jobs every day and provide a highly accurate verbatim record, tools like Audio Sync, that are not — that are not used in the testing process.
Let’s be clear. We’re relying on the fact that we need more stenographers. Wouldn’t it be good if we could give all the tools that a stenographer uses in the real live situation while covering a deposition or covering a court proceeding or any legal matter to those that are trying to get into the work force? I feel very strongly about that that testing processes need to include that so that we can have more stenographers out in the marketplace and not less. And so that’s my assessment. That is Stenograph’s assessment and I stand by it. I feel very strongly that everybody should look at that really critically and say if we need more stenographers, we have got to get more students out. If we get more students out, why don’t we give them all the tools that a normal stenographer uses on a daily basis? That’s a question for everybody to ponder on. And I hope and my sincere hope is that people will consider this as a suggestion and really look at the merits of doing that versus getting more stenographers out in the marketplace.
- MICHELLE: As someone who, you know, passed the stringent California CSR, I can understand that’s kind of a controversial thing to bring up because we do take great pride in our ability to capture the record stenographically verbatim. However, I think it’s important to consider the fact that with the need for stenographers for who — who are actually holding new stenographers, potential new stenographers to a standard that is above what most are meeting in the field because most reporters do use Audio Sync to some extent as an editing tool.
So what specifically that means if it’s a percentage that’s allow to come from audio or what that breakdown is could be a topic of discussion. But I think as Anir said, to really think about utilizing the tools, the modern-day tools that are available to working stenographers to allow more stenographers to enter the field could really be a win.
- DAN: Yeah. And if we want more students to enter steno schools, we got to get the graduation rates up. It is — we need more stenographers out there. Why not use the technology and the tools available?
- MICHELLE: Dan, this is a question about our new product Check It. What is Check It and what will it do for stenographers?
- DAN: Oh, love T so we’re very excited about CATalyst Check It. The full name is CATalyst Check It. We just introduced Check It less than two weeks ago, and it’s been a very successful product launch so that’s great. So Check It is different than Grammarly. Good suggestion. I don’t know what the licensing requirements for Grammarly are and how that would be integrated, but we could look at that as an enhancement request.
But is comparing the steno-generated transcript with — the stenographer can, while editing can send the audio file to our ASR engine, compare the audio file the transcript it comes back from the speech engine with the steno-generated transcript and can compare the two. And in the editing process, you can choose which words were correct in the transcript and can edit the transcript. And we’ve done studies on the time savings that can be accomplished during the editing process. It’s really great.
It’s, like, three and a half hours per week can be saved in editing. And this applies both for scopists and for reporters. So we’re very excited. The idea of using Grammarly, I don’t know. We can look into that. Maybe that’s a future enhancement.
- ANIR: That’s a great, great request. We have to consider it.
- MICHELLE: I think another exciting thing about Check It is it really offers reporters out there working that weren’t quite competent to put out a rough a way to quickly go through a transcript and be able to confidently put out a rough draft in that it highlights spots that differ from where what the audio captured which we, like I said, utilized Audio Sync more. So it’s an exciting introduction and the feedback has been excellent from stenographers.
- ANIR: Yeah. And when used in conjunction with Audio Sync, Check It used in conjunction with Audio Sync during the editing process which is an arduous long process, it can significantly improve the productivity I would say and maybe free up more time for to you take off or cover more jobs, whichever appeals to you. And that’s what we are trying to bring to our customer base with this product.
- MICHELLE: Right. Anir, on that note, why was the priority made to release the ASR to digital reporters before Check It was released for stenographic reporters?
- ANIR: Yes. So again like I addressed earlier, it’s not a question of priority. It’s a question of how long does it take to develop products for different markets? Like I said before, we hold ourselves to a very high standard based on the requirements that our customers or what they think they want from Stenograph. I will tell you we went through two beta processes for Check It. Beta takes time so that we could get a product out that is actually useful for stenographers. It’s not a question of prioritizing digital or something else over, you know, what we release for stenographic reporters.
We have resources that are dedicated to different product lines. It’s not like we are using one resource and prioritizing them for one product line over another. It takes time. It takes more beta testing. It takes really, really fine-tuning before we can release a product in the marketplace for stenographers. That’s just the reality of where we are with the Check It and how it was released.
- MICHELLE: Right. To make that product really useful to stenographers and with their already high accuracy, their method of record capture, we really had to fine-tune that, take all of that beta suggestions and content into account and integrate into the product to put out a product that would really, really help you and help the productivity of stenographers.
- DAN: And rarely have I seen so many people all agree to the benefits of a product as I have with Check It. So it’s been really a benefit. I think, Anir, you have kind of addressed this, but it adds a specific twist to a couple of our products. So we have received as I mentioned a lot of questions about whether or not we train the engine. But specifically do we use customer data in the CATalyst licensing language related to the cloud backup and Check It, there was some language about data usage. Do we use cloud backup or Check It data to train our ASR engine?
- ANIR: Yeah. Like I said, I’ve spoken pretty, pretty detailed on one of the previous questions I think that was related to this. The answer is no, we don’t use any data, whether that’s a cloud, weather that’s in Check It, or, in fact, even in other segments of our marketplace. We don’t use customers’ data. It’s as simple as that, and our language reflects that in Check It. I believe so. So I think the answer to that question is no, we don’t use customer data.
- DAN: I think I’ve now asked you that three times.
- MICHELLE: I think what I would add onto that when you do add Check It on as a CATalyst user, you actually receive a privacy message that states no audio file processed through the ASR engine is used to improve its performance. Any language in our CATalyst licensing that mentions privacy is really as a reminder to stenographers that any data that you are putting into CATalyst is your responsibility to protect. It’s not used by Stenograph.
- ANIR: And, you know, there is I think one other question that I think we received earlier about, you know, utilizing open — open ASR tools or Open AI for ASR. I will tell you one of the most specific reasons we decided to build our own speech recognition engine and not utilize, you know, ChatGPT AI or Google Bard or speech recognition technology available from most vendors out there is because of data protection so that we could make sure that this data remains secure and nobody has access to it, including ourselves, because we do not want to be in a position where we are utilizing off-the-shelf or open data-based tools out there like ChatGPT because we could not control what those vendors do with the data.
So we are in control of our own speech recognition infrastructure. We are in control of our own speech recognition engine, the technology, and we just keep the data secure and delete it once the speech recognition engine is done with what it needs to do, provide the service that we provide to our customers.
- MICHELLE: Great. Anir, you mentioned that we would have further CATalyst updates coming down the road. Why Isn’t Check It a free update? Why isn’t Check It free?
- ANIR: Yeah. It’s a fare question. It’s not free because there is a cost creating, maintaining, and holding our own infrastructure to house the speech recognition engine that is utilized in Check It. There is a cost to us every time someone uses Check It. And so we have to make sure we are being okay with our financials around the product. And that’s why it’s not free. Look, when Audio Sync first came out, it was not free, either. But later on it was added to the Edge contract. Maybe that’s the route depending on adoption that Check It will go in the future. However, at this time, we are charging a nominal fee for it every month.
- DAN: Related to that, Anir, there’s been other questions. So you mentioned CATalyst upgrades coming in the near future. Are we planning to charge for those or is that going to be more along the lines of what customers have expected in the past?
- ANIR: No. I think, I think we have to provide large updates and upgrades as part of the Edge contract. Just because Check It is a chargeable product or feature doesn’t mean that all upgrades of CATalyst from here on are going to be chargeable. I think we have to be — I am going to be very clear. We have to provide customers with updates and upgrades on a regular basis like I said earlier, not once a year, but on a regular basis throughout the year as part of the Edge contract. And that’s a significant shift from where we were as a company four, five years ago where we would wait a whole year for one big upgrade as part of Edge. So that’s my answer to that.
- DAN: I want to add on you mentioned the cost of the infrastructure for Check It, we actually have dedicated servers for Check It as a standalone product. So there’s real infrastructure cost dedicated to check the Check It product.
- ANIR: Yeah. And not only main infrastructure, but backup infrastructure because we have to provide almost 100 percent uptime to any customer that wants to use Check It at any time of the day, 365 days a year, right. So there’s a real cost to setting up that type of robust infrastructure to support a product that I believe is pretty, pretty, pretty value-added for most stenographers.
- DAN: We have been looking at the charts to see when everyone’s logging in. It’s amazing. It really is a 24-hour operation people sending files in. So, yeah, that infrastructure being dedicated is really beneficial. Kind of going, Michelle, I am going to ask you this question, going along the lines of Check It, so what has the feedback been from stenographers on Check It?
- MICHELLE: Excitingly, it has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve gotten so many wonderful comments and great feedback from customers beginning in the beta process. And like I said a lot of their feedback was incorporated into the product. And now with customers who have purchased Check It, we have almost four hundred licenses purchased now with just the couple of weeks that it’s been out. And the feedback is that it’s saving a substantial amount of time in the editing process. So it’s a very exciting product to have launched.
- DAN: Thirteen days since we launched this product. Great. I’m so glad to hear that, Michelle. Okay, I want to change directions a little bit. There’s been some questions on the Luminex II. Anir, this one will be for you. Are there any plans to do a recall on the Luminex II in light of all the cracking hinge issues? If not, is Stenograph willing to extend warranties?
- ANIR: Yeah, I mean, look, this cracking hinge issue is an issue. Let me agree; however, I will tell you that it is at a very, very, very minuscule percentage of the total writers. We’ve shipped more than 7,000, 8,000 Luminex II writers. And this is a very small portion of that shipment. You know, we take care of our customers. If we see that there’s no sign of abuse or damage from fall, et cetera, we replace those. We stand behind our product. We are very proud of the quality that we provide to our customer base. And we will support customers if they see this issue.
But again, want to reiterate this is not an overwhelmingly large population. It’s a very small percentage of the total writership of the Luminex II.
- MICHELLE: I think that’s one of those things that on social media it can appear to be a larger issue than it is. If you get on and you take a look at something and you see ten people in a row saying I had a cracked hinge, that could really lead to you believe that that goes on and on and on when, in fact, it’s percentage-wise as Anir said, it is a very, very small percentage. And we do a good job of making sure that we take care of our customers.
- ANIR: Yeah.
- DAN: Michelle, I would like to stick with you on this one. Why are there no more authorized service providers to have machines repaired or serviced?
- MICHELLE: Yeah. That’s a great question. You know, when we had writers that were more manual-based, Senturas, smart writers, those writers needed to be serviced, the recommended servicing was annually which meant that those authorized service providers were seeing those writers on an ongoing basis. So when the writers changed to the more computerized writers from the Diamante forward, the decision was made to have all writers serviced in-house.
And there was a couple of reasons for that. You do need with they this very precise piece of equipment, you really wanted person working on this machine to see these writers and working on these writers on a daily basis. They require a lot of training and precision as well as very precise tools to properly work on these writers. So it is important that the writers are serviced by the companies who make them. Again, if the writers aren’t being serviced as frequently, they are not going to be seen as frequently by authorized service providers in order to provide that top level of servicing. So as with a lot of other tech companies, we felt it was in the customer’s best interest to have the writers serviced in-house.
- DAN: In addition to that, I remember we’ve talked about the longevity of some of our employees. Our service employees are some of the most — have been here a while. They have been here a long time, so they are really good at what they do.
All right. Anir, another one about Luminex II for you. I’m wondering if Stenograph has future plans to announce retirement of the Luminex II steno writers and replace with newer technology or equipment. Is there such a timeline? Would you please let me know?
- ANIR: There is no immediate plans to retire any writer. We usually support our writers for upwards of seven to eight years as we did with the Diamante. So we will stand behind the writer. We will continue to service it. At this time, there are no future plans to retire any writer, either the Luminex or the Luminex II. But if such information becomes available, we will absolutely let the marketplace know.
- MICHELLE: Dan, hopefully you can answer this question. This is one we’re hearing some in the field. Why are there no tall boy tripods available for purchase?
- DAN: Yeah. This has been a bit of a cycle for us. So unfortunately the manufacturer of our tall tripods had a problem with the tooling, the tooling process during the pandemic. And it took quite a built of time to get the equipment from the vendor and then when the shipment came to us, it didn’t actually pass our — pass our inspection, our QA. So we had to work with a different vendor. And we gave this vendor our drawings and now the vendor is having to rework the design to meet our specifications and to make it more manufacturable.
So it’s kind of been a longer process than we would have liked. So I do — I think it’s an important issue. We need to push on this one a little bit more. We know for the people that use tall tripods, they really want the tall tripods. So I apologize for the inconvenience to the customers that have had orders on backlog for a while now. So we will check in on that one after this town hall to make sure we are pushing on that as hard as we can.
- MICHELLE: Great. Another question that came in is regarding an enhancement request to integrate voice commands to save wear and tear on reporters’ bodies for repetitive tasks such as replace, insert, D-define, J-define. Where does a request like this stand?
- DAN: Yeah. We would love to remove as much stress from people’s bodies and repetitive tasks as possible. So that’s an interesting enhancement request. So voice commands, I don’t know. We will put that on the list. I will let the product manager know. I know she is listening tonight, so that’s a really interesting upgrade request. You know, we do accept these comments whether they come through the development process, through tech support, through even I think there’s a way to let us know on the website. And then we capture these development requests in a development website called DevOps that we work with our development team. That’s kind of an interesting idea. We will see what we can do.
- MICHELLE: Great. I think another one for you, Dan, why are beta testers forced to sign an agreement that they cannot speak freely about the software they are testing and must remain silent on their opinions?
- DAN: Well, forced to sign agreement? Yes, customers do sign an agreement, a beta agreement with us. So basically when a product is in software development or any product is in development, the beta versions are not the final versions of the product. So if we were going to do a review on a beta product, it would not be a fair evaluation of that product. So we ask that the beta users wait until a product is released and they are free to do any sort of evaluation, publicly or not, of a product once it’s released and once they are reviewing the final product. It just wouldn’t be fair to review a product while it is in beta test.
An example would be Check It. Nine months ago, Check It was not in the place it is today. And if we had done a review on the first beta of Check It, it wouldn’t be like it is today. So, yeah, I think we have a great relationship with our beta users. I hope we do. I think we do. They tell me we do. And they provide a lot of great feedback to us like so much feedback we had to figure out how to ingest all that feedback. And they do a great job. So we really appreciate the beta users. I will say sometimes we have to change beta users. We have to cycle in some new thoughts from our beta team. And we did that with this Check It product, even. We added to our beta group. So, yeah, I’m pretty proud of our beta process, actually.
- MICHELLE: Thanks, Dan.
- DAN: Michelle, since you asked me the last one, I am going to ask you the next one. Has there been any attempt made to create a universal software that could open, edit, and export in multiple proprietary formats? Is such a product possible as a standalone product or software as a service?
- MICHELLE: Our focus as far as software is that on Case CATalyst and integration between our software and our machines. Having said that, we have incorporated the RTF dot CRE format which does make it possible to open, edit, and export files from other CAT software. So I think that addresses the answer to that. Other focus is and continues to be Case CATalyst.
- DAN: Yeah. I agree that with that.
- MICHELLE: Okay, Dan, here is one for you. Did the most recent CATalyst update cause any glitches or issues with the software?
- DAN: No. I checked with — whenever we release a product, we do pretty significant regression testing. So we mentioned the beta test. Even before we go to beta test for any new build of software, we make sure that it didn’t break anything. And so we are pretty confident when we release products that it won’t break anything. Then we release it to beta, sometimes even in beta, we get exception errors or something. So it has to go back to the development team to make sure that there wasn’t any crashes caused by the new code development. So we are really careful.
And then after we release a product, we monitor the tech support calls to see if there is any problems caused by this release. And my product manager and I’ve also talked to this team since the release of Check It. And there were some calls about this was working slowly or something. There was someone who got an error. But those were not associated with the upgrade, and we think that the software running slowly was due to their hard drive fragmentation and stuff like that. So no, we have not seen any particular calls about glitches or problems with this Check It release.
But I will remain vigilant, you know. So far, four hundred people have purchased — almost four hundred or about four hundred have purchased Check It licenses. So we will keep checking.
- ANIR: And this is exactly, this question reminds me, this is exactly why we have to be extra careful and very precise about how we release products specifically related to CATalyst in the stenographic market.
- DAN: Michelle, we got a question here specific to a new feature. This was actually also in the new release. In the new release there’s a rewind, fast-forward feature. Is that beneficial to stenographers?
- MICHELLE: Yes. Part of the last update included a feature that’s CATalyst rewind and fast-forward. And it’s actually an example of a feature that was requested by stenographers and has been added into CATalyst. There is no fee for this service or this feature. It allows more flexibility in audio playback both forward and backward. An example of the way a stenographer would use this is many reporters and scopists, actually, use a foot pedal when editing. This new feature enables the programming of both rewinding and fast-forwarding from the pedal in addition to the play and stop options that are available previously.
- DAN: Thank you. Anir, I am going to send one over to you here. You know, there have been a lot of movement towards remote deposition in the marketplace.
- ANIR: Mm-hmm.
- DAN: And so a question came in, wouldn’t utilizing Zoom more widely help with the shortage in those areas instead of using digital reporters to fill the shortage?
- ANIR: I’m sure it does. And I’m sure people are utilizing all the tools available to them to get reporters to cover the jobs. Like I said, we don’t make decisions based on reports or studies. We make decisions, strategic decisions based on what our customers are telling us. And if tomorrow our customers come back and say we have enough stenographers to cover all the jobs, that will be the only focus for us as a company.
- DAN: I would add onto that also. I think we have noticed that a lot of stenographers, I think I mentioned it before, have extended their careers due to the prevalence of Zoom and remote deposition. I would also like to mention that we have our own remote deposition product called Case Testify. And it’s really functional and feature-filled.
- ANIR: Yeah. Again, I want to add this. Has Zoomed helped? Has remote deposition platforms like Case Testify and others, WebEx, whatever, has it helped? Absolutely. The reality of the market is that the transcription pages are growing at a rate of four percent or more every year. You know, and we’ve got to really look at the work force available and the work force in training and what can be covered every year, the number of retirements, the numbers of people joining the work force, and really come up with a solution so that all jobs can be covered by stenographers.
And I think I mentioned a few thing about testing process, about conversation between technology providers and associations and their leadership about how to solve this problem together. It’s not just a problem for practitioners that do stenography. It’s a problem for vendors like Stenograph. You know, we invest like I said before, a lot in stenography. And we want to have more and more stenographers that are potential customers. So it’s in our best interest and everybody’s best interest to come up with a solution that solves for this in the long term. I will leave everybody with that thought.
- MICHELLE: Anir, with you addressing that Check It is a paid feature and then also mentioning that there will be more CATalyst updates coming more frequently, will those feature updates be separate paid products or will they be actual updates as part of the Edge agreement?
- ANIR: It’s going to be part of Edge, right. You know, we’re going to do more frequent updates, upgrades, to Edge. That doesn’t mean that we won’t in the future release a separate feature or a premium feature that is chargeable or not. But I think it’s fair to expect regular updates and upgrades for customers that pay us on an annual basis contracts for Edge. So I think it’s going to be a combination of both. And what we can tell everybody is that we are working very hard to provide value to our customers as part of Edge so that they remain — have the best technology available for stenographers.
- MICHELLE: Great.
- DAN: There was —
- MICHELLE: Go ahead, Dan.
- DAN: I will ask another one. So earlier, Anir, you mention that had we got about 15,000 calls. Was that in Q1, I think?
- ANIR: Yes.
- DAN: Is that unusual? Are we experiencing greater call volume than ever before or is that a normal call volume?
- ANIR: It is normal call volume. I will tell that you January generally is say high call volume month for many reasons I think. But yeah, that’s normal call value on an average basis. So that’s not — that’s not out of the ordinary. So if I were to answer the question no, it’s normal call volume. I gave out that number to give just the vast number of calls that we are servicing on a quarterly basis. So I can understand maybe even ten percent of those calls are beyond the average, right, not as an excuse.
But I just want to make sure everybody understands that maintaining a three-minute to six-minute hold time for 15,000 calls is a big effort. We’re not going to claim perfection. But that also doesn’t mean that we are taking away from the work force that is employed by us to support stenographers on a daily basis. And that’s why I gave out that number.
- DAN: Yeah. I also want to add to that 15,000 is in the range of normal. And in no way was that meant as like a problem that people were calling about. It’s just normal support. It’s a lot. It’s a lot of calls, but that’s what we do. We take that many calls. Okay. Michelle, sorry.
- MICHELLE: That’s okay. Anir, I think this is a good and very important question that comes up. Can you speak to the reliability of the Luminex II in comparison to the older machines? Were older machines more reliable?
- ANIR: I will just speak to data. Look, I’m not a stenographer, right. And I wish I could write as fast as all of you do. But what I will say is I will give you some data based on warranty. You know, the Diamante and earlier versions really had a percentage of warranty costs which just means problem writers that we had to return or we had to exchange or whatever. It was a very high percentage of total dollars of revenue, right, close to ten percent even or even more at some point in time. And I’m talking about Diamante and older.
With the Luminex, Luminex we reduced that significantly, maybe in the four or five percent range. But with Luminex II I was just checking our warranty numbers just this past month. It’s less than one percent. So I can assure you with data that Luminex II is probably the most reliable writer that this company has commercialized in the past 85 years of our existence. That type of warranty cost is really, really low for a writer that has been out there for now four years.
- MICHELLE: Yeah, that’s great. Appreciate that. And I can say that for the sales team selling a writer like that is getting the feedback, the positive feedback it makes it a wonderful product to sell. Reporters are overwhelmingly very happy with the product. And on that rare occasion when it does require some type of warranty service, we take good care of our customers.
- DAN: And I can say from the development side when faced with questions about cutting costs or keeping quality, we almost always err on the side of keeping the quality. So…
- MICHELLE: Stenograph holds a very high standard by our customers and we respect that and strive to meet that standard and to continue to improve our products. And the Luminex II a perfect example of that when the evolution of the products begin making the product better and better and better.
- DAN: You know, I remember the question about the enhancement request about could you do voice commands to save wear and tear on your body. I got to say when we design these products, we also design them to be as ergonomic as possible and have the softest touch and responsiveness of the keyboard. And before entering this industry, I had no idea what went into all that. So it is pretty amazing to see the engineers working on all these things just to see how the machine works with the human body and the responsiveness.
And Michelle, you and your team have provided a lot of great feedback on that. You have a team of people that are experienced stenographers, many of them. I did see a question that said that — and this one will be for you, then, Michelle. I just noticed it on the screen. So someone said that — I don’t have the question in front of me. But there’s a lot of change in the district sales manager ranks and they haven’t had a consistent sales manager. So has that been your experience here?
- MICHELLE: No, that’s actually very rare. The average tenure of our district sales managers is over 20 years. There’s very rarely a change in territory. I think the most recent change was made when I changed from being a California representative to accept this position as VP of steno sales. And we were able to bring a wonderfully experienced, industry-experienced rep in to fill that position. Otherwise, our reps have like I said a great tenure and they do I think a wonderful job of customer outreach. Someone mentioned not receiving our e-mails, and I think I wanted to mention a couple of things. These days a lot of e-mails go to spam. And so make sure you do check your spam folders for e-mails from your reps.
The other thing is make sure you opted into our e-mails. Our reps put out content that is designed to resonate with you, talking about the features of our products and new product releases, et cetera, that will benefit the stenographers specifically. So we want to stay in touch with you and your local rep is there to do that.
- DAN: I’m so glad you mentioned that because I saw several questions come in about having not received the e-mail invitation to this very meeting which surprised me because we used as big of a list as we could of CATalyst and all models of writer users. So, yeah, some people may have opted out or went to spam filters. I’m not sure. It’s getting harder and harder to get through spam filters, so I hope we are not — I can say even at my company, you know, we’re getting fewer messages now than we used to.
It is about, it’s almost 12 minutes before the hour, so I think we are going to take two or three more questions here. There’s one I will answer myself I see in the chat. Will You raffle off a machine during the annual convention in Houston? So we have donated a machine to the NCRF, the Foundation. And the proceeds of that go to Project A to Z [sic] and yes, we will be raffling off a machine at NCRA.
- ANIR: I just want to add we will continue to do that every year that we are here. I want to reiterate our commitment to stenography has never wavered, at least as we see it. I acknowledge some of the concerns in some of the questions. But you should never question or concern about our support for the NCRF. We always support the NCRF and we will continue to support that in the future.
- MICHELLE: Definitely. There’s a question asked does the student machine have audio, Audio Sync and how would a student use Audio Sync using that machine? I’m assuming this is addressed to our suggestion that it may be considered to allow some percentage of testing to come from audio. And I think that was directed more towards audio in CAT software, not to a machine specifically. The student writer, to answer the question directly, does not have Audio Sync.
- DAN: I’m only going to ask this question because it came in after, after we answered similar questions. But it came up again. With the cloud and my audio recordings that I’ve paid out to be able to hear bench conferences and highly confidential situations, where is my audio going? Is it restricted and safe or is the cloud just out there? I provide CaseViewNet to my judge because I cannot directly connect. Is everything you’re recording stored somewhere?
CaseViewNet is secure and audio is not being stored or reused for ASR development. Anir, would you like to —
- ANIR: Yeah, audio that is recorded on the writer or through microphones that are connected to the writer, that is local to the individual’s computer and hard drive. When somebody backs up audio into the cloud, it is secure in the cloud. That is projected by the user’s password. Neither Stenograph has any access to it and compliance-wise legally we cannot have access to it, number one. And number two, Amazon which is where our cloud backup lies, is also compliant with GDPR and CCPA and all those data protection laws.
So you will see when people use the data, they will tell you, they have to tell you by law they are using the data. If they don’t tell and you they use your data that, is illegal in the United States of America and in Europe and many countries across the world. So I want you to be fully assured that we are not using your data in any way to either, either access it, look at it, review it, or training the engine. Your data is your data and it remains with you. When you send it to our ASR engine like I said, we process, we provide what the user is asking for, and we delete the data deleted. It’s all automated, which means there’s no human being involved at all in this entire process.
- MICHELLE: That’s a good point. I want to mention that for this town hall we did have the questions from the petition we wanted to address specifically. In addition, we put out the e-mail and received quite a few questions via e-mail that we gathered from and put into here. We’re doing our best to get to the widest sampling of questions in the chat, but I can tell you with the time left it will be impossible to get to them all. I encourage you if your question was not answered to reach out to your Stenograph representative and have that conversation. We’re here and ready to talk with you.
On that note, we do have a few minutes left, Dan. Do you want to grab a couple more question from the chat?
- DAN: Yeah, I’m trying to read through them to see if we can get a couple more. Anir, earlier in the call you mentioned the supply chain issues that we have had. I know some of our customers have had a longer lead time on product than we would like, they would like, we all would like. And you also mentioned our absorbing some of the inventory costs as we buy more parts. Is supply chain still an issue with Stenograph?
- ANIR: Supply chain is an issue across the board, still. It’s getting better and we’ve become smarter in terms of our procurement strategy helped greatly by our parent company with their supply chain networks that are across the world in Europe, in Asian countries, and in South America, Latin America. So we are getting better in our own supply chain strategies. But overall supply chain is an issue. And costs of specifically chips that are in high, high demand since the pandemic are really high. There’s no — there’s no other way to explain that.
However, I will tell you that we have made significant improvements in our writer lead time as many of you may have seen in the last few months. And we will continue to work the supply chain so that we can continue to provide writers to students and to professionals in a very timely manner.
- DAN: There’s a couple questions I would prefer to have my product manager on the line to help answer. But one I will combine two questions. Will BCS be updated the same frequency as CATalyst and how do we get Stenograph to address issues that we as captioners will having with software issues that are common among us? That is a great question. I know Michelle has brought that up also to me. So I can say that we do have BCS. We have captioning features on our roadmap, but I don’t have any dates for updates on those. So we’re going to have to get back to you on that. But thank you for the feedback.
Is there any that you want to ask, Michelle?
- MICHELLE: Yeah. Just kind of summarize a couple of questions essentially asking if we’re newly acquired by our parent company and was that the direct — is that when our digital direction changed? Is that when we added digital to our strategy? And finally, do we expect to be sold off? Are we concerned about that?
- ANIR: Our parent company acquired us in 1998, so no, we’re not a recent acquisition. That’s number one. Number two, our diversification and additional products that service other methods has nothing to do with our parent company. It’s to do with what we hear from customers up and down this country that many of our leadership team, our salespeople have visited, that I have personally spoken to. There are geographies in this nation where there are not enough stenographers to cover all the jobs.
And we are trying to address that need. That’s what’s behind our diversification. Again, like I said in the past, but it is not at the expense of focusing and investing in stenography. We have to — we have to understand that Stenograph is a big company, bigger company enough. We are big enough to support multiple product lines without having to make bad choices about, you know, giving focus on one type of products versus another. We are a bigger company than we used to be thanks to the investment from our parent company.
So I would say that that, the acquisition, our parent company, et cetera, has nothing to do with our strategy. And like I said in the past, our parent company, our board is very invested in Stenograph and our strategy to support stenographers and our diversification. And at least I don’t see any time in the future that we are going to be divested or sold off.
- DAN: It’s an interesting question because I know that some investment companies are, like, you know, what is it called? Churn and burn. I forget what it is called. But our parent company is more of a buy and hold strategy. They are an industrial company that is in their investments for the long term.
- ANIR: Just as an anecdote and I think this is an important anecdote that I want to talk to customers about. Look, first we are not the only company in this space that has a digital products line. That’s number one. Number two, there are companies that have nothing to do with stenography or record capture or verbatim transcript that are now entering this space with digital-only businesses, that are not answerable to anybody but their shareholders. And this is money out of Wall Street, e-companies that are funding these companies.
We are here to protect the record. Our solutions regardless of the method requires a trained professional to operate the equipment whether that’s stenography, whether that’s voice, whether that’s digital. We truly believe that we have a duty towards this industry to make sure that the record is captured and protected in the right way. We’re not here to replace stenography. Again, the biggest problem if I can leave you with one thought, the biggest challenge that is facing stenography is one and only one. How do we get more stenographers qualified and into the marketplace?
If we can solve that, then it would be very, very rosy for everybody involved here including Stenograph.
- DAN: Okay. That’s a good place to leave it. We’ve reached the end of our allotted time tonight. Anir, before we close, would you maybe like to offer some summary or any other further comments?
- ANIR: Yeah, I think there is — I just want to leave, you know, our listeners and our customers with a few points from the entire discussion and some learnings for us for Stenograph and for me personally. The number one piece here is that Stenograph is committed to stenography. Stenography is a core part of our strategy. We are investing in it and we will continue to bring cutting-edge technology to our customer base.
We also are looking to the marketplace and we are diversifying to fill gaps that exists in many geographies across the nation regarded to the availability of trained stenographers and the volume out there. That’s number two. Number three, ASR, speech recognition is not a replacement for any trained professional and definitely not a stenographer. It’s a tool. Use it if you want to use it, but it’s a tool that is designed to help you be better in what you do, be more productive, cover more jobs. That’s number three.
And number four, we are very invested in the future of stenography and students. And not only do we support organizations that do great work to get more students in, whether that’s through donations, through writers, through funding, you know, scholarships or supporting the NCRF. We are there to support students. And I want to reiterate that commitment.
Number five, we support all industry organization, whether that’s the NCRA or other industry organizations like AAERT that service practitioners across different fields in the marketplace. So those are my key points. We’re going to continue to work on providing with you updates on CaseViewNet, CATalyst. We hopefully will improve Check It in the future and continue to work on writer technology, too, so you can get the best writer available in the marketplace.
The one learning for us and personally for me is that we got to be more proactive how we communicate to our core base of customers. So you will see more podcasts, more webinars, more direct and engaged conversations with our customers on a regular basis that we don’t have to have petitions for town halls, et cetera. That’s my learning from this. And one other thing is, you know, we believe that the future of court reporting and stenography is a shared responsibility between technology providers like us and others, between the national and state associations that define, control the testing process, and firms that utilize stenographers on a daily basis to cover jobs.
It’s a dialogue. It’s a conversation. We have to work together to make this happen. This is not any one’s responsibility. It’s a shared future and it’s a shared collaboration that we have to work together. I want a conversation. We all want a conversation. Let’s get to that. Thanks.
- DAN: Thank you, Anir. Thank you, Michelle. I think I mostly want to thank our customers that joined us tonight with all the outpouring of questions and more than we could get to and I apologize we couldn’t get to all of them tonight, it shows how committed you are to your craft and we respect that and we support you and we thank you. And we look forward to further dialogue and communication between Stenograph and stenographers in the future.
- ANIR: Yeah. Thank you, everybody, for listening.
- MICHELLE: Thank you. Good night, everyone.