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 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

“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.

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