VoiceXML: What's Everyone Talking About?

Though not a new technology, VoiceXML — which allows you to create applications that make Web-based information accessible via voice — is gaining steam as more corporations shift to an IP-based infrastructure.

By Kevin Reichard | Posted May 4, 2004
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Moving your company's infrastructure to an IP-based environment isn't a simple chore, particularly if there's any customer service involved. Unless you want to have a huge call center handling every aspect of customer support, you'll need to automate processes to some extent.

VoiceXML can help that automation take place. Though not a new technology, VoiceXML is gaining steam as more and more corporations shift to an IP-based infrastructure. Basically, VoiceXML is an XML grammar (and not specifically a language) to create applications that make Web-based information accessible to users via voice and telephone.

“The numbers are with voice portals: There are more than a billion telephones in use around the world, while about 250 million PCs have Internet access.”
VoiceXML is not a proprietary technology belonging to a single corporation. Instead, it is managed by the VoiceXML Forum, whose members include the likes of AT&T, IBM, Lucent and Motorola. Because VoiceXML is positioned as a Web standard, it has been submitted to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for approval: Version 1.0 was approved in March 2000 and version 2.0 was approved last month. (If you're at all interested in VoiceXML, you can check out the specs here.)

Connecting the Dots
There have been many efforts to bridge the gap between computer and telephone-using consumers. The greatest distance is between WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), a text-based technology, and VoiceXML, which use voice technology. In some ways the two technologies are similar in terms of how they are implemented, but while WAP is purely text that's appropriate for a PDA or cellular phone, VoiceXML builds on a familiar ground already used in the customer-service world: voice. There have been proprietary voice-recognition systems (or Interactive Voice Response systems, as they were once called) used for decades now, so customers are familiar with them. VoiceXML builds on this popularity with tools to bring Web content directly to the consumer.

Let's say you're calling Delta Airlines on its Song low-fare subsidiary, and you need to either make a reservation or change one. Using the 800/FlySong line, users can find flights, check schedules, compare fares and track baggage. Most airlines still requires assistance from a human customer-server rep at some point in these processes, but the Tellme Networks setup delivers almost all relevant information via VoiceXML.

Similarly, we're seeing voice portals — some national, some localized — rise as a business model. Most of these voice portals are powered by VoiceXML to some degree. Basically, these voice portals empower users to access Web data (like listings, stock quotes, phone numbers, and directions) via a natural-language interface. The numbers are with voice portals: There are more than a billion telephones in use around the world, while Internet access is limited to only 250 million PCs or so. And while PDAs may someday displace cell phones to an extent, it's still hard to imagine a scenario more user-friendly for a consumer than being able to call in a question to a VoiceXML-based system.

Continued on Page 2: How VoiceXML Works

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