Single Messaging Source Finds Support

FRAMINGHAM (05/01/2000) - Managers and workers from business departments are forever dragging technology morsels into the office, and information technology managers ultimately have to embrace, ignore or disavow them. PalmPilots and PC shareware are good examples.

One of the latest end-user-driven trends, industry watchers say, is outsourced unified messaging, where a voice mailbox and Web and fax access are consolidated into one system with a single follow-me phone number.

Outsourced unified messaging "is absolutely a trend in the making," said Megan Gurley, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston.

Ed Kendrick, national sales manager for pharmaceuticals at BASF Corp. in Mount Olive, New Jersey, said one of his eight salespeople told him about a unified messaging system, Personal Assistant from Call Sciences Inc. in Edison, New Jersey The system enables users to have a single phone number for their office phone, cellular phone and fax connections. Voice mail is stored as an audio file on the Call Science Web server, and a caller can access it either by phone or through a browser.

After a second salesperson asked for the service, five more jumped in. "Some of them have gotten rid of all their other phone numbers" and have put the single Personal Messenger number on their business cards, said Kendrick. The service costs $30 to $40 per month for each user, he said.

Listening to E-mail

Kendrick recently got an account of his own and is interested in a service that enables Call Sciences users to listen to fax and e-mail messages over the phone using text-to-voice conversion technology.

Mike Lanning, director of sales and marketing at Adaptive Broadband Corp. in San Jose took a more formal approach to unified messaging.

A manufacturer of microwave and satellite equipment, Adaptive uses a unified messaging system from Bellevue, Washington-based Accessline Communications Corp.

Adaptive recently decided to consolidate three divisions. As part of this process, the company moved some of its customer service functions to an internal sales force to free up external salespeople for other tasks.

"Customers were calling outside sales reps for answers to simple questions," Lanning said. "This was causing undue delays for customers." But he said he knew they would habitually continue to call outside sales representatives first unless he made some changes.

Meanwhile, Lanning didn't want to cut the link between customers and the representatives. So he had Accessline set up a system that automatically ricochets calls to outside salespeople into the unified messaging system. The system prompts callers to place a new order, contact customer service or transfer to the outside sales representative.

Lanning said he pays about $15 per month per user for the service. Users of the service (not callers) can incur long-distance charges of 5 cents per minute when calls made to the unified messaging number are forwarded to numbers outside the local calling area.

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