Product Review: CallXpress 5.2 conquers enterprise inboxes

If you support many users who travel frequently, you have heard them clamour for a unified inbox. When they are on the road, their jobs would be greatly simplified if only they could read and respond to their e-mail, listen to their voice mail messages, and pick up faxes with one call.

With CallXpress Enterprise 5.2, you can give your users such a unified messaging system. Unfortunately, administering CallXpress Enterprise is not unified. You must still maintain separate lists of users and run different administration programs for the e-mail and voice/fax systems.

CallXpress Enterprise's main competitors are Lucent/Octel Unified Messenger and Nortel CallPilot, but its embrace of the enterprise sets it apart. For instance, it is much more scalable than Unified Messenger, with 128 ports per server; supports Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Outlook, and Lotus Notes; and, unlike Unified Messenger, has an integrated, proprietary fax system. And unlike CallPilot, CallXpress Enterprise integrates e-mail with voice capabilities, so users can listen to their e-mail messages over the phone.

AVT added several features to version 5.2 to make CallXpress Enterprise easier to configure and manage in large installations. In previous versions, you had to enter all voice mail user information by hand. But now CallXpress Enterprise has an import function that reads a comma-separated file and builds the voice mail user list. Individual options come from a default template, so you still have to edit each user's profile to configure specific needs for the phone system.

Its new digital networking option will be a boon to organisations with geographically diverse users. It lets you use IP to pass messages between two CallXpress servers connected via the Internet. This may not be true IP-based telephony, but it does let you send a voice or fax message to any user known to the CallXpress system.

Getting the system running requires a good understanding of telephony, Windows NT administration, Exchange 5.5 administration, and the AVT system. You also need to understand the phone system to which you are connecting CallXpress Enterprise.

Through AVT-authorised dealer KTS Services, I installed CallXpress Enterprise to work with an Exchange 5.5 and Outlook 97-based system. I liked the way the CallXpress client integrated with Outlook, giving me full control over all of my messages from within my e-mail client. I could even record and respond to voice messages from my laptop. CallXpress Enterprise adds a new form to Outlook for reading and responding to voice messages, letting users play back or record with speakers and a microphone attached to sound cards. Users can also forward voice messages via e-mail to anyone.

CallXpress Enterprise also gives users full control over their messages from the telephone. I was able to listen to e-mail and voice messages using a standard Touch-Tone phone. The text-to-speech voice quality is not great, but it is intelligible. Users can forward all messages, including fax messages, to any other number in the system.

CallXpress lets you store your voice and fax messages either on an AVT system or in the messaging system. With a server-based unified messaging approach, all e-mail, voice, and fax messages are stored on the server, so you will lose access to your voice and fax messages if the e-mail server goes down.

There is also a size penalty -- the CallXpress telephony server stores voice messages in a compressed format that requires roughly half the space of a corresponding .wav file on the server. And users will not get a call-waiting light on their phones.

All communication about your messages happens through your e-mail client when you use the server-based option.With this configuration, messages are not transferred between the two systems, resulting in better client performance.

You also can choose to cache voice and fax messages on the CallXpress telephony server. All messages received by the CallXpress telephony server are stored locally until a client requests them. Messages are transferred from the CallXpress server to the e-mail system and stored as attachments in either a .wav file or .tif format. This process requires some time to accomplish depending on the number and length of messages in the users' inboxes.

In the final analysis, how you configure CallXpress Enterprise comes down to what your users will tolerate. If you need the benefits of unified messaging while retaining functions such as a message-waiting light, you will want to go with the multiple message store option. Regardless, CallXpress Enterprise 5.2 offers a viable solution for companies looking for a way to integrate e-mail, voice, and fax messaging.

Paul Ferrill, based at Edwards Air Force Base, California, is a principal engineer at Avionics Test & Analysis Corp. He can be contacted at pferrill@fwb.gulf.netTHE BOTTOM LINE: GOODCallXpress Enterprise 5.2Summary: CallXpress provides a valuable solution for a mobile workforce that needs access to e-mail, fax, and voice messages from either a computer or telephone. The latest version adds enterprise-level administration tools for integrating the system into a large corporate e-mail system.

Business Case: CallXpress Enterprise's digital networking feature will reduce the cost of users passing messages between different locations, and its flexible message retrieval and handling capabilities will increase user productivity and customer response time.

Pros

+ Provides a single interface for e-mail, fax, and voice messages+ Can access all messages from a computer or phoneCons- Separate voice and e-mail administration programs- Server-based message offers no message-waiting light on users' phonesPlatforms: Server: Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 4; clients: Windows NT Workstation 4.0, Win95/98.

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