VoiceXML Conformance Report
In this article, we will test six VoiceXML browsers for VoiceXML 2.0 conformance to determine how compatible today's VoiceXML platforms are with each other.
Getting a group of scientists to agree on something is a challenge. Getting a small group of toddlers to play quietly is even more challenging. Getting business people and scientists to agree on anything is nearly impossible. Similarly, getting companies to create conforming VoiceXML browsers that are compatible with each other has so far been impossible.
First, we need to define what conformance means within the context of VoiceXML. An application that conforms to a standard means that it fully implements the specification, matches the syntax and follows the rules. For example, many off-the-shelf applications today are able to communicate with other programs on the network. How do they do that? Did all of these software companies work together to enable their programs to talk to one another? Well no, they are able to communicate because they all use a common network protocol called TCP/IP (actually, that's 2 protocols, TCP and IP, but they have a close working relationship). The Internet Engineering TaskForce (IETF) has been responsible for creating networking protocols for several years now. The reason computer programs are able to communicate with each other on a network without understanding the communication mechanisms of every other application out there is because they all utilize a common communications protocol. This is a very powerful concept because it provides a common communications mechanism that allows programmers to leverage existing technologies to create ever more comprehensive and powerful network applications. Imagine having to write your own communications layer every time you wrote a new application.
VoiceXML is in fact a technology that leverages several layers of standardized protocols that are used to transport messages between applications (in our case, a VoiceXML browser and a Web server).
The diagram above depicts the standards that a voice browser relies on to communicate.
Why Conformance is Important
I conducted an informal survey made up of participants that are either evaluating VoiceXML platforms or have already implemented a VoiceXML solution.
When asked why they were considering VoiceXML, the most common responses were:
- New technology
- Based on open standards
- Can move to a different platform later
- Can extend Web applications
Next, I asked participants to rate a list of nine VoiceXML benefits from one to ten, one meaning that the benefit was not important at all and ten meaning that it was very important. The list was created based on a common set of expected benefits that my company, The Ferrum Group, typically gets from customers when they come to us to help them select and implement a speech IVR solution.
The top three VoiceXML benefits important to customers were:
Provides a wider variety of platform choices
Uses open standards
Can port applications to any other VoiceXML platform
Finally, I asked participants What is the most important benefit that you want to see from VoiceXML?
The two most common answers were:
While the survey was not scientific, the results did seem to indicate that customers were most interested in the benefits that come from using an open standard like VoiceXML.
My conclusion as to why conformance is important is that customers naturally expect it as a byproduct of an open standard. Without conformance, the benefits of using an "open standard" are greatly diminished.