Cisco enhances enterprise IP message system

Enterprises will be able to extend advanced features of existing Avaya Inc. Octel message systems to the Cisco Systems Inc. Unity voice-message and unified-messaging software with the advent of Cisco Unity Bridge 2.0, Cisco announced Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, Cisco announced it has added voice recognition to its automated voice response software in Cisco Customer Response Solutions (CRS) 3.0. That means callers will be able to navigate a voice menu that runs on CRS by speaking to an automated operator instead of by using the telephone keypad, said Hank Lambert, director of product marketing for Cisco's enterprise voice and video group.

The announcements are part of Cisco's push to make phone functions part of a unified enterprise IP (Internet Protocol) network for voice, data and video. The updates to Unity are designed to make sure that departments that start using PCs or IP phones in place of conventional phones aren't left as islands in a legacy network that uses a variety of other voice-mail systems, Lambert said. Enterprises are migrating gradually to IP telephony and want to keep interoperability with existing systems as they do.

With Cisco Unity Bridge 2.0, users can employ features such as finding a user by name instead of number, and taking a shortcut to reply to a message, in a way that existing Octel messaging systems understand. Cisco, in San Jose, California, plans to add interoperability with other competing messaging systems in the future. The Cisco Unity software also has been updated, to version 3.1. The new version has greater scalability and greater redundancy to improve availability, he said. The optional bridge software can be plugged into the latest version of Cisco Unity.

Cisco's CRS call-center software has been enhanced with features such as new call-routing options and text-to-speech capability as well as the voice-recognition feature. For example, callers who let the call center software know they need an operator with certain skills, such as language skills, can have their calls automatically forwarded to someone whose skills match the requirements. That saves the cost of time spent by the initial operator having to transfer the call, as well as preventing annoyance among callers, Lambert said.

Text-to-speech capability offers the possibility that callers to an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) line could have Web-page text read to them without a human operator, Lambert said.

Cisco also rolled out IP SoftPhone 1.3, an upgrade to the company's PC-based telephony software, which now lets employees use a phone handset with a USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection to the PC instead of using a headset. The user interface for SoftPhone also has been improved and now can display Korean and Simplified Chinese characters.

The IP hardware lineup also has been expanded. Among the new offerings is a new version of Cisco's MCS (Media Convergence Server) line designed for sites with 200 or fewer employees. The MCS 7815-1000, which runs the Cisco CallManager software for signalling and call setup on IP calls, is available now with CallManager for US$7,995. The company also has boosted performance on its platforms for larger enterprises, introducing the MCS 7825-1133 and MCS 7835-1266, priced from $11,995 and $18,995, respectively.

Unity Bridge 2.0 software, an option with Cisco Unity 3.1, is available now for $7,000. IP SoftPhone 1.3 is available now from $105 or as a free upgrade to existing IP SoftPhone versions. CRS 3.0 is scheduled to become available in the third quarter and consists of three elements: IP IVR, priced at $4,995 for software and five IPR ports; IP ICD (Integrated Call Distribution), $4,995 for 10 agent licenses; and IP QM (Queue Manager), also starting at $4,995.

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