Oracle to offer voice-enabled 9i application server

Oracle Corp. announced last week that it will begin the long road toward voice-enabling all of its own applications as well as Oracle9i Application Server. The voice interface is expected to offer major benefits to a mobile workforce using a variety of wireless devices that do not include a keyboard or mouse.

On the host side, Oracle's efforts are focused on its 9i application server, where it intends to offer an interface that is independent of any vendor's voice gateway product.

A voice gateway typically includes a single vendor's speech technology engine, from companies such as IBM Corp., Nuance Communications Inc., and SpeechWorks International Inc., plus server hardware including add-in speech processor boards that use digital signal processing chips for automatic speech recognition, text-to-speech, and speech-to-text. Intel Corp.'s Dialogic Antares brand is one such manufacturer.

Until now, developers were required to create a voice-enabled platform for a particular gateway using the development platform from that supplier. By enabling the application server with speech recognition technology, Oracle says it will circumvent the need to write to a proprietary platform.

"We are saying that by using standard XML interfaces, our application server will have the drivers for all the different hardware," said Jacob Christfort, chief technology officer (CTO) at OracleMobile in Redwood City, California.

Oracle's own applications, including Oracle Sales, Field Service and Business Intelligence, and e-commerce applications, will be voice-enabled by the end of next year, according to Christfort.

A voice platform independent of hardware, rather than coded to the hardware, will allow companies to change systems along with changes in technology without rewriting its applications, Christfort added.

"If you want to upgrade to a 1,000-line Lucent box, all you would need to do is unplug one board and plug another in," Christfort said.

It is expected that one of the first uses of the voice technology will be in sales force automation packages. For example, a mobile worker could ask for a list of all of the outstanding problem tickets for a customer.

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