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IBM Donates Voice Code to Apache

NEW YORK -- UPDATED: IBM is donating software for speech-enabled applications to the open source community, a move supported by more than 20 speech vendors and platform companies, including communications systems player Avaya .

Big Blue said it is donating Reusable Dialog Components (RDCs) to Apache Software Foundation and speech editors to the Eclipse Organization. The idea is to help spur standardization for speech- enabled applications at a time when such platforms are proprietary. In all, the code represents about $10 million worth of development.

"We think we're at an inflection point now, and that all the pieces have come together to a point where the technology is going to sweep across the marketplace and become an everyday part of application deployment," said Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of IBM's software division.

During a keynote address to help kick off the SpeechTek conference in New York Monday, Mills and other IBM officials said the RDCs include pre-built speech software components, or "building blocks" that handle basic functions such as date, time, currency, locations (major cities, states, zip codes).

For example, they could help a caller book a flight using an auto-agent over the phone. The RDCs function as Java Server Page (JSP) tags that enable dynamic development of voice applications and multimodal user interfaces. IBM officials said JSPs incorporate RDC tags that automatically generate W3C VoiceXML 2.0 at runtime, which is a standard basis for speech applications.

In the process, IBM and other software players in the voice- enabled sector are making it easier for J2EE developers to add voice interaction to Web applications.

The latest donation comes just weeks after IBM released a copy of its Java-based Cloudscape relational database application to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF).

During his remarks here, Mills said it was time to help spur the industry on with the donation to the code. "Let's get all the boats to rise. Let's go beyond the handcoding," he said. The idea behind the move is to introduce an element of "scriptability" that makes speech-enabling applications accessible to any developer.

Gary Cohen, general manager in IBM's pervasive computing group, said IBM hopes to accelerate development and drive innovation in the speech ecosystem so that speech vendors to ISVs and platform providers can interoperate.

Ted Bray, vice president of strategic planning and product management for self service offerings at Avaya, told internetnews.com that the collaboration with IBM integrates Avaya IP Contact Center and Self-Service Software with IBM's WebSphere Speech Software.

He said the integration of Avaya's contact center software for self-service, Avaya Interactive Response, with IBM WebSphere Voice Server 5.1, would deploy open standards such as VoiceXML in order to provide a single integrated platform.

Bray said the collaboration also deploys the Media Resource Control Protocol (MRCP), which facilitates integration of speech recognition and text-to-speech.

For many call centers, the voice systems are still operating as separate silos from customer service options on companies' Web sites, he explained. "What we're announcing with IBM is a true realization of closer end-to-end customer interactions. Now, developers can build a voice application that runs on anyone's platform."

"This is a continuation of a collaboration with IBM," he added, which stretches across Avaya's four major sectors: IP telephony, contact center systems, messaging and services.

As part of the alliance, Avaya said it would also support IBM's RDC initiative, including Avaya's speech development environment called Avaya Speech Application Builder.

The framework and example tags are being donated to the Apache Software Foundation and made available to interested members of the community through the Apache Taglibs sandbox project. The contribution of speech editors to Eclipse is in proposal stage.

In addition to Avaya, other supporters of this initiative are Apptera, Audium, Avaya, Cisco, Fluency, Genesys, Kirusa, Loquendo Motorola, Nuance, OpenStream, Scansoft, Siebel, Syntellect, Telisma, Tuvox, V-Enable, Viecore, Vocomo, VoiceGenie, VoicePartner, and VoxGeneration.

"IBM is a contributor but the whole industry needs to play," Mills added.