Voice Mobility offers unified messaging via Google

A unified messaging application from a Canadian vendor should be of use to small businesses using Google Apps, according to one industry analyst.

Vancouver-based Voice Mobility Inc. says its UCN Vmerge service now lets users access Google Apps software, including Gmail and the online scheduling and office productivity applications made by Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc.

Using their Gmail accounts, UCN Vmerge customers can access voicemail, e-mail and fax communications from one inbox. Users can access the service from Windows Mobile devices, including hardware running Java 2 Mobile Edition, Pocket PC and smart phones, said Mehdi Nezarati, a project manager with Voice Mobility.

He said the back end requires either Windows XP or Windows 2003 Server, and for small businesses with 100 or fewer users account, a Pentium 4 processor should support the service.

“You don’t need a very heavy server,” he said. “A Pentium 4 will suffice to manage all your unified communication needs perfectly.”

Nezarati added voicemails appear in users’ Gmail accounts as .wav files. Users can also send faxes from Gmail, manage live calls from their desktop PCs, synchronize call logs and use their computers to click to dial internal and international numbers. One advantage of a service like this is small companies do not need to purchase a Microsoft product like Exchange Server or Office Communications Server, said Jayanth Angle, research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group.

“The model that this solution uses, leveraging Google’s applications, definitely is a much more practical approach for enabling unified communications capabilities in (the small business) market,” he said.

But he added there are some disadvantages to relying on a Web-based mail system like Gmail for corporate communications.

“If you lose connectivity, do your users lose access to any type of productivity applications that you require? That would be word processors, spreadsheet, et cetera.”

Google Apps Premier Edition, which costs US$50 per seat, includes a 99.9 per cent uptime guarantee, whereby Google lets users get the service free of charge for a fixed period of time if the Google’s servers fail. But it does not cover failures of customer equipment or other infrastructure beyond Google’s control.

“The concerns would definitely be around the reliability of service,” Angl said, but added it will appeal to businesses are either have Google Apps or are thinking of rolling it out.

Google Apps includes access to several of Google Inc.’s online software, including Google Docs, which lets users create and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

It also includes the Google Page Creator Web design program.

Although Google Apps may be well known amount IT managers, the average user is not aware of its features, Mehdi said.

“I don’t think it’s advertised very well and it’s not well known to the general public,” he said. “We’re going to be able to expose the capabilities that are there within Google Apps as a free service and tying it in with the unified communications product really makes it a great offering.”

But Angl says managers at many small firms don’t understand the benefits of unified communications.

“A lot of organizations they’re targeting still have not identified the benefits from these capabilities,” he said. “They can understand hosted e-mail and the benefit of moving to a more hosted model may be more obvious, but unified communications over the past few years has been nebulously defined. I think the challenge is showing where a small business could find benefits from this.”

Voice Mobility says its next release of UCN Vmerge will include “presence integration” between customers’ private branch exchanges (PBXs) and the Google Talk instant messaging service.

UCN Vmerge includes the Voicemail Edition, which includes automated attendant, fax server, instant messaging and wireless paging. It can store voicemails in common e-mail software packages such as Exchange, Outlook, Novell Groupwise or Lotus Notes. It is also available in a small business edition and an enterprise edition, which has wireless connectivity, text-to-speech, one call “find me” and speech recognition.

The Google Apps version of UCN Vmerge is available in both unified messaging and unified communications versions.

“The unified communications user is really the rolls Royce of the users,” Mehdi said. “You’ve got the full mobility in terms of presence so you can set multiple locations up for your mailbox and when someone calls you, you can have the system find you, no matter where you are.” He added if the system cannot reach a person, the caller would leave a voicemail without having to try different numbers.