you have been feeling the buzz around convergence, the coming together of
data, voice, images and other forms of information as a single entity. Lets explore
a leading-edge aspect of convergence: unified messaging (UM).
people have different definitions for key terms in the UM world. The definitions I prefer
Unified messaging is the ability to receive and reply to voice,
e-mail and fax messages (and to receive notification of same) in a single mailbox that is
accessible from both computers and telephones.
Integrated messaging is a form of UM that stores voice, e-mail and
fax messages on separate servers but presents them to the user in a single view.
UM helps people become more productive in many ways:
Users get their messages from a
single source at once rather than three sources at different times.
Users can retrieve and process
their messages from either a computer or a telephone, whichever is more convenient at the
Users need not go to fax
machines to pick up incoming faxes; instead, faxes come to users.
Users can browse voice messages
more quickly using a computers direct-access capabilities than they can on a
UM is particularly valuable for two types of users. The first is the
user who receives many messages, such as help desk personnel. Savings of even a few
seconds become meaningful when they are repeated dozens or hundreds of times per day.
The second type is the user who is out of the office a lot, such as a
litigator. The flexibility to use either a telephone or a computer allows the user to take
advantage of time when it is available. For example, at an airport telephone, you can
listen to and respond to voice messages; have e-mail messages read and filed; and forward
Costs and limitations
Like any other new technology, UM has its costs and limitations. Many
businesses find it difficult to quantify the value of professionals productivity, so
they have trouble deciding whether an investment in UM is justified.
UM is based on Internet standards such as the Internet Protocol (IP),
so some existing systems need to be upgraded or replaced first. In many firms, two
different groups manage information technology and telecommunications; UM requires that
these two groups be brought together and integrated.
Faxes and voice messages are an order of magnitude larger than e-mail
messages, so UM greatly increases network storage and throughput requirements.
Traditionally, computer networks have not been as reliable as voice
systems, so some people fear that voice messages will be lost or will be temporarily
unavailable under UM.
Many vendors have their fingers in the UM pie. These include, for
Phone switch providers, such as
Lucent Technologies (http://www.octel.com/service_providers/um/),
Nortel Networks (http://www1.nortelnetworks.com/entprods/messaging/callpilot/index.html)
and Siemens (http://www.icn.siemens.com/icn/products/messaging/xpressions/xp470.html).
Microsoft, which announced that
Exchange will have UM storage capabilities.
Providers of outsourced UM
services, such as Virtualplus (http://www.virtualplus.com/products.htm)
If you want more information, the Unified Messaging Consortium
provides easy-to-understand definitions, reports and more at its website, http://www.unified-msg.com/.
Dana Shultz is an
Oakland-based attorney and certified management consultant specializing in computer
technology and the Internet. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on the Web at www.ds-a.com.