Putting all your eggs in one basket can be good

Unified messaging systems can be a time-saver for wearied travellers who need to keep on top of their messages and for busy employees who don’t have time to run around doing simple tasks such as faxing, according to users.

Unified messaging systems let users access their voice, fax and e-mail messages all in one place – either on their desktop or through a phone.

And for those companies looking for a unified messaging solution for their employees, Kirkland, Wash.-based AVT Corp.’s CallXpress Enterprise Version 5.20 is a sure bet, according to International Data Corp.’s messaging industry analyst Peter Davidson in Burbank, Calif.

“It’s a slightly more polished product than a lot of the other ones that are out there. I think AVT has been doing this longer than anybody, and it seems to me that they’re doing a pretty good job. The stuff works, which to me is the number one thing,” he said.

Not all messaging products are quite so reliable, Davidson said.

“There are unified messaging systems out there that are brand new and that a conservative person wouldn’t bet their business on,” he said.

According to Davidson, the difference with AVT is that its products have stood the test of time.

“A lot of it is that this is a product that has been out there, or at least portions of it, for years, so you’ve got refinements to the user interface that they’ve learned through real-world experience. The systems themselves have been put through the paces and have been operated in various different environments,” he said.

CallXpress integrates both with Lotus Notes 4.6 and R5 as well as with Microsoft Exchange 5.5. Users checking their messages from their desktop or a laptop when travelling can access phone messages and faxes from an e-mail account.

Voice messages are converted to WAV files and can be listened to through the computer’s speakers or, for messages that are more private, on the phone. Faxes are converted to TIFFs and can be funnelled to a user’s desktop in one of three ways: everyone in the office can have a Direct Inward Dialling (DID) fax number, a secretary can route faxes to the appropriate person from a general inbox, or companies can also use Optical Character Recognition software to scan the first page of a fax to look for either an employee name or extension number and then automatically send the fax to the appropriate e-mail box.

Users can also send faxes right from their desktop, saving the need to walk over to the fax machine, said Laura Johnson, AVT Corp.’s director of product marketing.

The product can also be a time-saver for users who are travelling, Johnson said. Employees no longer need to check voice mail and e-mail messages separately, they can check everything in one go through either an e-mail account or phone. Those who don’t have a laptop can have e-mail messages read to them over the phone. They can also be notified of any faxes and forward those to another fax number if they need to read them right away. Users can also forward e-mail messages to a fax number if they prefer to see a text version.

“There are definite soft-cost savings and much convenience from being

able to manage everything from one inbox . They’re hard to quantify in

dollars, but I know it’s made my life a lot easier,” said director of telecommunications and network services Keith Askew of Sutter Health in Sacramento, Calif., a healthcare delivery company.

What Askew likes about CallXpress is the open architecture.

“We could develop no end of interfaces and tie-ins with our telephone system and Outlook,” Askew said.

But the product could benefit from a better connection between Outlook and AVT voice mail, he added. “The Voice Mail communicates over a TAPI (Telephony Application Program Interface) link, and it has a few minor limitations, although those have been worked around nicely,” Askew said.

Babbage-Simmel, a technology consulting firm in Dublin, Ohio, that uses CallXpress with Exchange 5.5, is also pleased with the product, said vice-president Rick Haggard.

“The biggest savings is that it’s freed up 50 per cent of my receptionist’s time,” Haggard said. Everyone in the office has a DID phone and fax number.

CallXpress (www.avtc.com/ctghome/showroom/products/um-sol/um-sol.html) is priced at between US$100 to US$250 per seat, depending on the number of users.

AVT in Kirkland, Wash., is at (425) 820-6000.