Voice-Enabling IT Apps Gets Easier with Multi-Vendor Package, VoiceXML

Two companies have teamed up to simplify creating voice-enabled applications

Voice-response applications are everywhere, but many IT departments face challenges when building them from scratch. To help IT overcome a lack of in-house knowledge or the hassle associated with the perplexing telephony technology involved, CommuniGate Systems and Voxeo Corporation are joining forces to offer a hosted VoIP and interactive voice-response system that should make it easier for IT to develop such apps.

Don’t let VoIP scare you; we’re not talking Skype or low-cost long distance service from your cable company. Instead, it refers to IP-based PBX systems, and the two companies handle all the technical details for you.

Helping make development easier, according to John Hibel, Voxeo’s vice president of marketing, is VoiceXML, a markup language similar to HTML that enables creation of services over the phone. Hibel says developers won’t have the steep learning curve to create voicemail applications or to enable voice features in IT applications (such as adding voice reminders via phone).

In their move to simplify enterprise VoIP, CommuniGate and Voxeo will offer turnkey communications servers that are easy to deploy and manage, targeted at small and mid-size companies without dedicated IT sections and departments within a larger enterprise that are supported by IT. The companies take care of the considerable technology involved, from standards-based IP-PBX and speech-enabled IVR to conferencing and unified messaging into a one-stop-shop.

Named Office Lingo during its beta stage, the final product integrates CommuniGate Pro (an IP communications application server) and Voxeo’s Prophecy Voice Platform (which does the speech recognition and voice synthesis). IT options range from a turnkey appliance to complete hosted and service packages.

What this partnership brings is a “communications system that touches different modes of communication and is programmable for phone services through W3C-based standards and uses a methodology that IT/Web-centric people are familiar with. For Fortune 2000 IT mainframe people who aren’t talking voice and telephony protocols but who light up when they hear [the terms] HTML or .NET or JSP, this gives them a platform to create communications services using W3C standards and tools that they’re already familiar with. That’s pretty compelling.”

Think of what IT needs to handle if they want to voice-enable an application, Hibel says. “If you want a complete communications service, you have to get a PBX, IVR, an e-mail server, presence and instant messaging, and then figure out how to glue all that together and make it work, then how to house it and take care of it and keep all the equipment updated. We can deliver that in one simple package that scales and which can be delivered as a box that sits on a rack in your closet, or as a hosted service that sits in our data center, or we can do anything in between.”

“VoiceXML separates the application from the execution, so the service provider can house the VoiceXML browser—the box that processes the VoiceXML app—and that browser interacts with a Web server that delivers the application on demand. The Web server can be housed anywhere, such as at the IT’s data center. So the security implications are no different from those that IT deals with every day with secure connections from Point A to Point B.”

Jon Doyle, vice president of business development at CommuniGate, adds, “The complexity behind VoIP for the enterprise has been a headache, a stumbling block, for IT. That’s what we bring to the table—quality of service and being able to put this up in a scalable way. We can host what you need and make sure the quality is there, but you can keep the data in your organization so you can maintain that security.”

Features supported in the offering, and which can be programmed by IT—using VoiceXML, CCXML, or SIP—include e-mail, calendaring, and secure instant messaging.

The company says several open source VoiceXML and CCXML applications will be available with the offering when it ships later this year, including an auto attendant, voice mail, conference manager, and applications targeting a number of vertical markets, such as a medical office application bundle in which speech-based IVR applications will help patients self service their appointments, and get pre-appointment call reminders.

About the Author

James E. Powell is the former editorial director of Enterprise Strategies (esj.com).