Internal voice app project fills unexpected holes

What began as an internal project to develop novel voice over IP (VoIP) applications at Devlin eBusiness Architects (DBA) has spawned a new product line and a new corporation.

DBA, a Toronto-based Web app developer, created software to beef up its in-house IP phone network. The firm built a messaging platform that makes it easy to send company-wide announcements via text, voice or images to employees’ desktop phones.

The messaging platform was meant to improve productivity inside Devlin at first, but it didn’t take long for the Web app developer to decide it had something unique with this system. “We realized there are no apps” for IP phones, said Catharine Devlin, the company’s founder. DBA smelled a market opportunity.

So it begat Rimode Inc., a new company whose prime product line comes from the VoIP message platform that Devlin built for itself. Rimode made its debut at IPComm 2004, a VoIP conference held here in Las Vegas from Nov. 14 to 17.

Rimode says it offers advice on implementing VoIP systems, and presents customized applications. The idea is to make an enterprise’s IP phone platform that much more useful, according to the company’s press material.

Its primary products are the Real-time Audio Paging system, dubbed RAP Paging, and the Text Audio and Graphic (TAG) messaging system. RAP Paging lets companies send out audio messages to select staff members or the entire company. It comes with an interface to develop broadcast lists, and essentially replaces the old-fashioned public announcement systems that some companies still use to get information to employees. RAP Paging sends messages directly to workers’ desktop phones.

According to Rimode, RAP Paging is good for sending emergency alerts, announcements and other messages designed to improve internal communication.

TAG includes RAP Paging functions, but adds graphics and text to the equation. These multimedia messages would appear on an employee’s desktop IP phone — sound coming through the speaker, text and images displayed on the device’s large screen.

According to Bob Seehra, on hand in Vegas to demonstrate Rimode’s offerings, the applications tie into an enterprise’s call management system and offers access control, letting IT managers decide who’s able to do what with the programs. The apps reside on a server connected to the business’s user database. Rimode built the products on Java and XML, two technologies meant to provide interoperability between different high-tech elements.

Seehra said an enterprise could schedule TAG messages to go out at particular times of the day — good for a “store closing” announcement in a retail environment, for instance. In offices TAG could be used to send virus alerts or to conduct worker surveys, while universities could use the system for revenue — sell banner ads to local businesses targeting students. The pupils would see the ads every time they used their in-dorm IP phones.

“Universities have been asking us to come in and do some demos,” Seehra said.

One university represented at IPComm is looking for VoIP applications these days. Folks from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, headquartered in College Park, Md., attended the conference “to get a sense of what’s happening in the (VoIP) industry,” said James Kellogg, the institution’s assistant director in the office of Smith IT.

According to Tom O’Rourke, Smith’s director of operations, the school is keen on rolling IP telephony out across the campus to improve audio conferencing for staff and faculty, and to deliver information to students. He noted that the session initiation protocol (SIP) — a networking scheme that’s supposed to tie disparate communication systems together — could play a large role in the university’s platform of choice, whatever it may be.

That said, Kellogg noted that nothing on the show floor caught his attention. Rimode had a booth at the conference.

What did catch his attention, however, was the absence of two major IP phone market players. “Why are Cisco and Avaya not here?” he said, pointing out that Nortel Networks seemed to have the IPComm audience to itself.

Back at Rimode, Devlin, the firm’s founder, said universities are not the company’s sole target market. She envisions health care facilities, retail environments and offices turning to her company’s wares to improve productivity.

Ronald Gruia, an IP industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan in Toronto, said during his own IPComm presentation that equipment vendors are pushing productivity as VoIP’s selling feature these days.

Devlin said Rimode aims to play a role in the market, just as DBA provided applications for the Web when that industry was ramping up a decade past.

“It’s exactly the same as what happened when we started the company 10 years ago,” she said, confident that Rimode will make a name for itself in the VoIP application space.

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