Voice XML Forum launches certification process

The Voice Extensible Markup Language (VXML) Forum announced on Thursday the launch of a certification program in an effort to bring interoperability to VXML vendors.

“With this conformance program for platforms we are providing [companies] with an independent third-party certification that meets the VXML specification,” said Ken Rehor, chair of the VXML Forum Conformance Committee, and one of the original authors of the VXML specification.

Starting with a pilot program this month, three of the 380-member strong VXML Forum – Toronto-based VoiceGenie Technologies Inc., Vocalocity and Voxpilot Ltd. – will be the first to go through the platform testing period.

“[It’s] a way for us to work through any of the minor kinks in the process or things that we haven’t anticipated,” Rehor added.

Criteria for the testing is based on work done in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and includes approximately 700 tests. More tests will be added as the number of vendors participating in the Forum grows, Rehor said.

“These tests are designed to be very narrow with very specific pieces of a specification and how a platform implements those things,” he added.

As the process gets more streamlined, the Forum will add automation infrastructure to reduce the completion timeframe of the entire certification process – currently estimated to take several weeks.

The quest for a VXML standard started in 1999 when the Forum was first created. In 2000, version 1.0 of the language was produced after being proposed by such companies as AT&T Corp., Lucent Technologies Inc. and IBM Corp. and the Forum turned its focus to the W3C for the development of a standard.

In February, with version 2.0 of the VXML specification, and marked improvements upon the first version, the W3C passed the proposed recommendation – a move that Rehor called the technical evolution of the language. There are a few more steps to take before the VXML is considered a standard.

These first three vendors participating in the pilot project will be tested for compliance with the VXML 2.0 proposed recommendation and the W3C’s VXML implementation report, Rehor explained. The testing will happen in conjunction with CT Labs, which are based in Roseville, Calif.

Companies don’t have to be members of the Forum to have a platform certified or get access to the test suite, Roher said. However, the goal of the program is to get as many vendors as possible to join the Forum.

“The more vendors we have, the more can be contributed to help evolve the test suite,” he said, adding that companies benefit by being involved in the process early on because they can contribute tests, be more interactive in discussions and it helps them make better products earlier.

David Senf, a senior analyst at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto said certification is another step in the process as the VXML Forum tries to ensure that one interactive voice response system is compatible with the next.

“The real winner is the mobile professional who can then access information from wherever they are with the most ubiquitous device on the planet – the telephone,” Senf said.

The certification process helps to ensure standardization and interoperability across the board, Senf added.

Down the road, the certification process will focus on applications as well as developer tools.

“The ultimate goal of conformance is portability. We want to be able to have an environment where customers can choose between a variety of different vendors at all different layers of the stack,” Rehor said.

Vendors will be able to chose their runtime environment, their telephony and speech recognition, and also be able to chose the best tools available for their particular task or be able to chose from pre-developed applications, Rehor added.

“Interoperability is the real driver of developing VXML – to get away from proprietary environments,” he said.

This summer, the VXML Forum launched a developer certification, with a focus on certifying individual developer skills as a baseline competency for VXML development.

A downloadable beta version of the certification program is available on the Forum’s Web site at www.voicexml.org.