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IBM Chatting up VXML Toolkits

IBM is rolling out upgraded software, tools and technologies aimed at easing speech applications into an enterprise's infrastructure.

The speech toolkits are gaining use, and not in call centers with voice-response systems. Car makers are increasingly integrating telematics for models, such as the OnStar system.

The announcement comes in conjunction with new customers using the technology: US-based Prudential Insurance and Parcelforce, which have begun using IBM speech technology in their contact centers.

In addition, Norway-based Opera software has announced a new multimodal browser that incorporates IBM's embedded speech.

IBM officials said the idea with Conversational Access, the name of the suite upgrade, is to improve call center and customer service offerings so end users can access data whenever and wherever, as well as complete transactions quickly, with the use of VoiceXML to integrate speech applications with other applications. The legacy approach is to treat speech applications as a separate silo.

The products are built on open standards and based on Java.

"Companies are now demanding that their contact centers be integrated with their current IT infrastructure. At the same time, developers want speech middleware based on open standards so they can use common application development tools to integrate speech into their existing business processes," said Gary Cohen, General Manager, IBM Pervasive Computing.

IBM officials said Prudential Financial will deploy an automated call center using Natural Language Understanding (NLU), through which customers can use voice commands to get information and perform transactions on their 401K accounts. The system is built on IBM's WebSphere Voice Server and WebSphere Voice Response platforms.

As a result, officials added, Prudential, which receives about 3.3 million calls per year in its call center, the NLU application allows callers to chat with automated contact centers and voice portals using natural phrases containing complex content.

IBM made the announcement as part of the SpeechTEK conference that kicks off Tuesday in San Francisco. It takes place alongside Microsoft's "VSLive!" and "Mobile DevCon" conferences this week.

All of the IBM upgrades are based on the VoiceXML standard and feature tools built on Eclipse-based WebSphere infrastructure software. The new versions in the toolkit include Voice Toolkit for WebSphere Studio, which is a plug-in for WebSphere Studio Application Developer.

IBM said the enhancement includes a call flow builder to streamline design and organize information.

The toolkit also includes CCXML (Call Control eXtensible Markup Language), a proposed standard that allows VoiceXML applications to manage telephony infrastructure; WebSphere Voice Server (future versions will support Linux as well as MRCP (Media Resource Control Protocol), a proposed standard aimed at easing the integration of automatic speech recognition and text-to-speech; WebSphere Voice Application Access, built to run on WebSphere Portal 5.0.2, with additional support for AIX 5.2, and features improved customization options for portal administrators, the company said.