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Customer Inter@ction Solutions
June 2007 - Volume 26 / Number 1
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An Update From The VoiceXML Forum

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, Editorial Director, Customer Interaction Solutions

If your goal is to find out what’s on the horizon for the speech technology industry, a good place to start is finding out what’s current and upcoming with the VXML Forum, considered to be the most prominent proponents and educators of speech standards worldwide. I recently got a moment to speak with Mark Randolph, Chairman of the VoiceXML Forum (www.voicexml.org).

TS: In a nutshell, what exactly does the VoiceXML Forum do? What are you responsible for overseeing?

MR: The VoiceXML Forum is an industry organization whose mission is to promote and to accelerate the worldwide adoption of VoiceXML and VoiceXML-based applications. Since the Forum submitted VoiceXML 1.0 to the W3C’s Voice Browser Working Group and adopted it as the basis for development of a W3C dialog markup language, the W3C has led the technical development and evolution of VoiceXML, while the Forum has served as an educational and technical resource, a certification authority and a contributor and liaison to standards organizations such as the W3C, IETF, ANSI and ISO.


The Forum sponsors a wide range of activities that are designed to help promote the adoption of VoiceXML-based applications and solutions. Earlier this year, the Forum launched the VoiceXML Solutions Directory, a comprehensive directory of VoiceXML-related products and services. Our technical committees are each active with activities appropriate to their teams’ charters, including speaker biometrics, VoiceXML platform certification, tools and accessibility. Our education committee established a developer certification exam and sponsors Webinars, tutorials and workshops.

________________________As these voice-driven phone applications mature, there is a critical need for companies deploying these applications to understand how their customers are actually using these systems
TS: OK, so what happened to SALT?!

MR: There is unanimous support in the industry for a single standard for developing voice-driven applications — VoiceXML. Every major software vendor supports VoiceXML, including IBM, Microsoft, Oracle (News - Alert) and SAP. Plus, there are countless other industry leaders and innovators all building upon and refining this one standard. To date, the VoiceXML Forum has certified 22 platforms through the Platform Certification Program including, recently, Microsoft (News - Alert) Speech Server 2007. A few of the themes and concepts in SALT and other industry proposals such as X+V, particularly as related to multimodal, may influence the features and design of the next generation of VoiceXML, version 3.0.

TS: Can you tell me more about the recently announced VoiceXML Solutions Directory?

MR: The VoiceXML Solutions Directory is designed to help companies interested in deploying VoiceXML-based business solutions to find the products and services they need quickly and efficiently. It currently includes nearly 200 products and services offered by the Forum’s member companies. Product categories include VoiceXML platforms, application development tools and pre-built dialog modules and applications. Service categories include VUI (voice user interface) design and development, systems integration and solution deployment, and hosted services and solutions.

The VoiceXML Solutions Directory can be found at www.vxmldirectory.com.

TS: How many vendors do you count as members at the moment? What kinds of companies are these? Are they only speech platform providers?

MR: The VoiceXML Forum has more than 150 members worldwide, and these members span the industry value chain. Our membership is comprised of a diverse community of IT, telecom and speech industry leaders, including platform vendors, hosted solutions and service providers, application developers and tools vendors. Information about becoming a member is available on the Forum’s Web site at www.voicexml.org

TS: How are partnerships between vendors and the VoiceXML Forum forged? What’s the typical process?

MR: The VoiceXML Forum is open to any company committed to supporting the development and promotion of VoiceXML and related technologies. We don’t enter into partnerships with companies and organizations in the legal sense. Companies can become either Promoter or Supporter members and actively participate in the committees. We have liaison relationships with standards organizations such as the W3C, IETF, ANSI and ISO that enable us to contribute requirements, best practices and other technical work.

TS: Speech analytics are the fastest growing and most adopted technology in contact centers right now. Do you think that with analytics, speech has finally found its enterprise “killer app” to drop an overused term?

MR: The use of speech technology is becoming more and more pervasive. I think of speech, for example, in the enterprise, simply as a complement and extension of traditional customer interfaces like the Web. Today, we are seeing speech being used to extend enterprise applications and data to the phone, which is really exciting. As these voice-driven phone applications mature,
there is a critical need for companies deploying these applications to understand how their customers are actually using these systems. To that end, speech analytics will become critical for enterprises — the same way business intelligence and reporting has become for traditional IT — and is an indication of how mainstream use of speech technology has become.

TS: Has speech become more affordable and flexible for SMBs as of late? What do you credit with bringing this about?

MR: I think standardization is the key reason that speech technologies have become more affordable and attractive to SMBs and we’re seeing more adoption in this market segment. Standards, as has been their role in other industries, allows players across the value chain to specialize and to gain, for example, economies of scale. For instance, because of VoiceXML being a standard, solutions providers, even for packaged applications targeted for SMBs, can assume that their applications are more portable and flexible. SMBs know the risks of their investments are minimized. In addition, with the Web orientation of VoiceXML, SMBs even have the opportunity to offload the hosting of their applications with the possibility of lowering their costs even further.

TS: What kinds of strides in terms of confidence factors and success rates have been made with speech technology lately?

MR: For a long time, speech vendors and customers were very focused on recognition accuracy. Though accuracy is important, today, it’s probably more useful to observe what is happening in terms of end-consumer acceptance. As more and more companies deploy speech applications across a broad range of industries, we’re seeing consumers (and customers) become increasingly comfortable using these applications, even to the point where they are performing transactions by telephone.

TS: What do you say to a company that wants to deploy speech in either their call center or across the enterprise yet has minimal IT resources to maintain it?

MR: I would tell them to look to hosting companies and packaged application vendors for support.

TS: What sort of developments is the VoiceXML Forum looking forward to in the near future?

MR: The opportunities to help shape the future of phone-based applications and services are expanding beyond VoiceXML into adjacent technologies. Accordingly, the Forum’s work is broadening. Today, we have technical committees dedicated to speaker biometrics, CCXML, MRCP and VoIP.
________________________I think standardization
is the key reason that speech technologies have become more affordable and attractive to SMBs and we’re seeing more adoption in this
market segment

As VoiceXML 2.1 nears completion (the W3C expects to release it as a W3C recommendation shortly), the Forum will launch a VoiceXML 2.1 platform certification program.

I think that multimodal is also a very significant opportunity for the VoiceXML Forum. By multimodal, I refer to the coordination of the voice user interface and the graphical or visual user interface. This will allow voice technology to play an even greater role in consumer devices such as mobile phones and television set-top boxes.

TS: Thank you for your time, Mark.

Dr. Mark A. Randolph is Fellow of the Technical Staff and Director of Engineering and Technology at Motorola (News - Alert) and is responsible for technology strategy in the area of mobile applications, content and services. Prior to joining Motorola, he was Member of Technical Staff at AT&T (News - Alert) Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. He currently serves as Chairman of the VoiceXML Forum.

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