Say youre a small business of 30 employees or fewer, but your employees travel a lot, or work frequently from their homes or client premises. Say further that you have a regular, circuit-switched phone system, perhaps from Panasonic or Toshiba, or maybe Inter-Tel. Or possibly youve even gone the IP route already, and have a VOIP system from Cisco or 3Com, or the IP PBXes of Avaya, Nortel, Mitel or someone else.
If you havent purchased a voice mail adjunct server yet–or maybe even if you have–take a look at Esna Technologies Office-LinX small business edition.
Announced Nov. 4, it combines all of the unified messaging features the market learned to understand–and largely ignore–with the Web accessibility and call forwarding that made mobile users ultimately sit up and take notice. Throw in auto attendant, multilevel menus of recorded announcements, PC-based phone control and enterprise-secure instant messaging.
Throw in presence, so that the system knows to send all calls to voice mail if youre out to lunch, or to forward them to your home phone if its Thursday. Also so you know which of your coworkers are online.
If they are and you want to call them, you can do that with a click in your UC Client Manager applet. If you click anyone to call and you have a softphone, the softphone will make the call. If you have a desktop phone, it will ring you first, then the called end and connect you.
Throw in call recording, too: Such recordings will be stored as e-mails, as voice mails are. Every hour of voice storage takes up 5 MB.
You can buy all of this in one box, whether your PBX is circuit-switched or IP, and you can have it for about $4,500, including speech recognition for speech-enabled auto attendant. If your PBX is all IP, you can do without the telephony board and probably come in at about $3,500. Make people dial extensions instead of speak them, and you can get way with less.
The Office-LinXs unified messaging delivers all of your voicemails and faxes into your Exchange, Lotus Notes or GroupWise inbox. For years across the industry, users received this feature with a big yawn until browser-based inboxes gave it new meaning; now anyone could perch at any hotels business center PC and check their messages in three media. Now, anyone can also do this from a mini-browsing BlackBerry or PDA.
Making the UC Client Manager applet also browser-based means that the traveling employee also can easily do two important things: First, redirect his or her incoming calls to any phone anywhere, and second, use the home-office PBXs dial tone for all outgoing calls. If youre on a cell phone, you first set up your cell phone as the active extension. Then, you type the number you want to dial into the applet.
This makes the PBX dial your phone, dial the outgoing number and bridge the two. In the days before flat-rate cell phone plans, this saved your company money on cellular long-distance charges. On an international call to a hotel room, it still could, especially if youre not getting a free VOIP ride on the call leg from laptop to IP PBX.
Davide Petramala, vice president of business development at Esna Tech, said the Office-LinX is aimed at the small business typically priced out of this large a combination of features. On a Webex demo, he showed me how the system could read aloud e-mails to those temporarily sans PC. These can be responded to by speaking; all unified messaging systems, including Esna Techs, save the responses as wav files and e-mail them back to the sender.
IM, Home Dial Tone
Petramala also showed me how the buddy list of Esnas enterprise-focused IM system showed phone extensions, organized buddies by department and sent SMS messages to those on cell phones.
Launching a Mitel softphone so I could see it on his Webex-shared desktop, he soft-dialed his own company number to reach the dial-by-name auto attendant. We asked for an employee and heard his voice-mail greeting say–because the system works with presence–that he was in a meeting.
The Client Manager applet can automatically pop up the contact record of a caller, using Outlook, Notes, or GroupWise, Goldmine, Act! and other popular contact managers. It also can be integrated with Siebel or other full-blown CRM systems.
The ultimate degree of PBX integration varies with the model, says Petramala, but CSTA compliance assures interoperability with all PBXes at a basic level and gives the IM client extension status. Esna Tech has particularly strong reseller arrangements with Panasonic and with 3Com dealers, who sell the all-IP NBX system.
Office-LinX SBE runs on a Windows 2000 PC and comes with two ports of Scansoft text-to-speech to read e-mails aloud; it optionally uses Nuance speech recognition for extension connection (auto attendant) by name. It can be clustered for scale and redundancy.
Most of the IP PBXs now on the market offer Web-accessible e-mail and voice mail, as well as presence and IM, but typically, its on an additional, optional server, such as Mitels Your Assistant or Cisco Call Managers Unity. They typically dont work in as many categories as this box, however. And while I cant swear to it, I doubt they come in at this price. For businesses that can be happy with eight simultaneous voice-mail users, its worth looking at this third-party alternative.
VOIP/Telecom Topic Center Editor Ellen Muraskin has been observing and illuminating the murky intersection of computer intelligence and telephony since 1993. She reaches for her VOIP line when the rain makes her POTS line buzz.