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Forum to Certify Voice XML Platforms

With age comes responsibility, an adage the Voice Extensible Markup Language (VXML) Forum is taking to heart with the launch of a certification track to begin next year.

The organization will start a pilot program today to test out the certification process -- implemented by the forum's compliance committee and executed by CT Labs -- and iron out any wrinkles in the program before opening the doors to all companies.

All testing criteria went through the Voice XML Forum compliance committee before a test bed was put in place by CT Labs. While the pilot program is expected to take longer, officials expect the certification process to last no more than a month, depending on the compliance footwork done by the company before sending the application in for testing.

The Voice XML Forum's Web site will feature a free download for anyone who wants a glimpse into the test suite. Filled with roughly 700 individual test programs, if companies run their platform through the test suite before sending it in to CT Labs, the certification process can be shaved down to a couple weeks, officials said.

Vocalocity, VoiceGenie and voxpilot will each put one of their upcoming applications through the certification process, which will ensure the software is compliant with VXML 2.0, the standard adopted by the World Wide Web Consortium.

According to Ken Rehor, Voice XML Forum compliance committee chair, a certification process is beneficial both to the industry and to customers who are looking for a product that works as advertised.

"We want to make sure that when platform vendors, and eventually tool and application developers, talk about specifications they have a common basis -- it removes the question of 'what exactly did you implement?' he said. "What customers are asking for is independent verification because vendors can and have claimed anything. We want everyone to have a common understanding of what the standard is."

Rehor said companies don't need to be members of the Voice XML Forum to participate in the certification process, or to even to download and use the test suite.

"One of the main benefits of this is simply to have everyone on the same page," he said.

Rehor declined to comment on the price tag for the certification process, saying the group was still working out the details.

The Voice XML Forum has been making strides the past year to expand on the original charter and goals of the organization created by IBM , Lucent Technologies , AT&T and Motorola .

Once it became clear the specification would become a standard -- Voice XML is used for hundreds of millions of phone calls every day and is currently in the candidate recommendation stage, which is two steps prior to complete adoption as a standard by the W3C -- it took on statesman-like qualities.

Earlier this year, the organization started up the developer certification process, a program to ensure the people coding the lines all had a baseline competency; it's a program similar to the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer or Cisco Certified Network Engineer tracks.

The founding fathers, if you will, also opened up its boardroom to other companies. Last week, it welcomed VoiceGenie, Hewlett-Packard , Nuance and West Corp. as board members, who will work with the original four to steer the standard's course in the future.