Oracle Buys Voice Technology

Oracle Corp.has purchased the assets and intellectual property of Indicast Corp., a creatorof software for voice-enabled technology. The technology expands Oracle’sability to support voice-driven applications on its line of enterprisesoftware.

Indicast’stechnology offers enterprises the ability to present portals as a sort of personal radiostation. Users hear the information presented as a continuousstream of information. Through voice commands, users can change the content,like skipping tracks on a CD, or move into more interactive applications, such ashearing the price of a particular stock or ordering airline tickets.

Jacob Christfort, vice president of productdevelopment for Oracle's mobile products and services division, says Indicast'sinitial concept was to create a framework for something similar to a personalizedradio station, which is a better way to receive information aurally. “Withaudio, we’re used to receiving a stream of information,” he says, contrastingit with the relatively static information presented on a computer screen.

Oracle hopes touse the technology to further push its application servers and related productsas a way of moving enterprise applications to wireless devices such ascellphones or traditional phones. Its first product using the newly-acquired technologywill be a hosted service that pushes customer applications to phones. It laterplans to integrate the technology into its application server.

To deploy Indicastservices, a VoiceXML gateway is necessary. The VoiceXML gateway takes voicecommands from the user and converts them to HTTP requests. Conversely, it takestext information and reads it to the user over the phone. “It acts as a sort ofbrowser proxy,” Christfort says.

Oracle doesn'tsell a VoiceXML gateway— it considers the task of the gateway to be a hardwareproblem, rather than a software problem, and wishes to be compatible with asmany gateways as possible. Christfort says many voice application frameworksdepend on a close integration between gateway and application server.

Oracle wanted aclean implementation of J2EE for its voice features. This influenced itspurchase of Indicast. “We’re very intent on concentrating on companies thatmake a clear distinction between what’s hardware and what’s software,”Christfort says. Although Christfort says the tools are compliant with the J2EEspecification, Oracle will only offer the product for its own applicationserver.

Christfort saysthe Indicast acquisition offers Oracle a significant advantage over itscompetitors in the application server space. He says BEA is narrowly focused onthe application server itself, and, while IBM offers server-side voiceproducts, they are not integrated with WebSphere. They sit on a dedicatedserver unrelated to the application server itself. Chris McConnell