Oracle Buys Voice Technology

Oracle Corp. has purchased the assets and intellectual property of Indicast Corp, a creator of software for voice-enabled technology. The technology expands Oracle’s ability to support voice-driven applications on its line of enterprise software.

Indicast’s technology offers enterprises to present portals as a sort of personal radio station. Users hear the information presented on a portal as a continuous stream of information. Through voice commands, users can change the content, like skipping tracks on a CD, or move into more interactive applications, like hearing the price of a particular stock or ordering airline tickets.

Jacob Christfort, vice president of product development for Oracle's mobile products and services division says Indicast initial concept was to create a framework for something like a personalized radio station, which is a better way to receive information aurally. “With audio, we’re used to receiving a stream of information,” he says, contrasting it with the relatively static information presented on a computer screen.

Oracle hopes to use the technology to further push its application servers and related products as a way of moving enterprise applications to wireless devices such as cell phones or traditional phones. Its first products using the newly-acquired technology will be a hosted service that pushes customer applications to phones. It later plans to integrate the technology into its application server.

To deploy Indicast services, a VoiceXML gateway is necessary. The VoiceXML gateway takes voice commands from the user and converts it to http requests. Conversely, it takes text information and reads it to the user over the phone. “It acts as a sort of browser proxy,” Christfort says.

Oracle does not sell a VoiceXML gateway - it considers the task of the gateway to be a hardware problem, rather than a software problem, and wishes to be compatible with as many gateways as possible. Christfort says many voice application frameworks depend on a close integration between gateway and application server.

Oracle wanted a clean implementation of J2EE for its voice features. This influenced its purchase of Indicast. “We’re very intent on concentrating on companies that make a clear distinction between what’s hardware and what’s software,” Christfort says. Although Christfort says the tools are compliant with the J2EE specification, Oracle will only offer the product for its own application server.

Christfort says the Indicast acquisition offers Oracle a significant advantage over its competitors in the application server space. He says BEA is narrowly focused on the application server itself, and, while IBM offers server-side voice products, they are not integrated with WebSphere. They sit on a dedicated server unrelated to the application server itself.