Unified Messaging increases productivity
What is unified messaging?
In today's information age, there are a multitude of ways to communicate with your customers including voice, fax, and email. Chances are your company uses all three. As the pace of business increases, so does the number of messages business professionals must manage and be responsive to every day. A recent study published in the Wall Street Journal found that the average employee sends and receives more than 200 messages per day. More time is spent managing these messages than tending to mission-critical tasks at hand. The difference between business success and failure can be a company's ability to handle these different customer interactions well.
By implementing unified messaging, users can take back control of their business communications. Unified messaging allows companies to gain a competitive advantage, improve customer service and employee productivity, while realizing tremendous cost savings.
How does it work?
Unified messaging provides a single point of access to all three message types voice, fax, and email from virtually any communications device telephone, personal computer or Web browser through the Internet. In the user's familiar email inbox, a unique icon identifies each message type. This single point of access and control increases employee productivity while improving communications with both customers and co-workers.
When out of the office or on the road, users can access and manage all their messages through the Telephone User Interface(TUI). Using the TUI, an employee can dial into their unified messaging system from any telephone and be able to quickly and efficiently listen to and respond to any message waiting in their inbox. They will be able to access and manage all three message types voice, fax, and email with just one phone call. The user can listen to their email messages using text-to-speech technology and respond to that email message with a voice message. The user can listen to the header of their fax message, forward that message to someone else, or even print it to the closest fax machine.
When in the office or on the road with a laptop, the Graphical User Interface (GUI) allows users to view all their messages, voice, fax, and email from their desktop computer or by dialing into the network using an Internet connection.
Unified messaging provides professionals with more flexibility when traveling, improves employee productivity while in the office and on the road, and gives companies the competitive edge they're looking for.
Why Unified Messaging?
- Mobile Workers experienced a time-savings gain of 70 percent using unified messaging to check all of their messages as compared with the traditional means of checking messages.
- Office Professionals experienced a 53 percent time-savings using unified messaging to check all of their messages from within the familiar Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook interfaces, as opposed to the traditional means of checking voice messages over the telephone, fax messages at the fax machine, and emails at the desktop PC.
- Sending and receiving faxes using unified messaging resulted in an 80% time-savings versus traditional means of sending a document from a stand-alone fax machine.
The Benefits of Unified Messaging
In today's business environment, professionals are constantly bombarded with time and mission-critical information, most of which comes in the form of email, voice and fax messages. An employee's ability to handle and respond to these messages can mean the difference between a company that effectively communicates with its key audience, and one that is out of touch with those most critical to its success.
A recent study published in the Wall Street Journal found that the average employee sends and receives more than 200 messages per day. As a result, a substantial amount of their workday is spent managing this information, rather than using it to their advantage. As telecommuters, travelling and off-site employees become more common, companies are also struggling with the need to keep these "road warriors," or mobile professionals, informed and in touch.
In order to maintain a competitive edge and help their employees be more productive, many companies are turning to unified messaging. This communications tool increases productivity, facilitates mobility, and gives companies the competitive advantage they are looking for.
What Is Unified Messaging?
Unified messaging enables its users to access all three message types-voice, fax, and email-from virtually any communications device-telephone, PC, or the Internet. It allows users to manage all of their messages from their familiar email inbox using common email such as Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes. Each message type is distinguishable by an easy to read graphical icon. The integration with these already-familiar email systems practically eliminates the need to train employees to use unified messaging technology because they are able to manage all messages just like an email.
When out of the office or on the road, users can also access and manage all of their messages from any telephone worldwide. Unified messaging provides unparalleled flexibility by giving users the ability to access their messages 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year from almost any location.
Features and Benefits for the Mobile Professional
Some unified messaging products include specific features tailor-made for the "road warrior," but that benefit all users whether they are in or out of the office. One such feature captures a caller's ANI (caller ID) and enables the user to respond to a voice message with a live telephone call. This powerful feature allows an employee to retrieve messages from any telephone and with the press of a button, be directly connected to the person who left the message.
Another unified messaging feature that caters to the mobile professional is the ability to send a voice reply to an email message. When using a telephone to retrieve messages, users can listen to an email message using text-to-speech, choose the reply option, and record a voice response. That voice message will be attached as a standard .wav file to a reply email message and sent to the original message sender. This feature allows the mobile worker to access and respond to email messages from any telephone, eliminating the need to have access to a computer in order to retrieve and respond to email messages.
Anyone who has ever played "phone tag" will appreciate what is commonly known as the "Find Me, Follow Me" unified messaging feature. Find Me, Follow Me allows the user to determine the path a call will take to try to reach them. This feature can be customized to try any combination of different phone numbers in order to insure that important call is not missed.
For example, if a user is going to be out of the office, but is waiting for an important call, he or she can specify that if no one picks up at the office, unified messaging will try his or her cell phone, then a pager, then home. If no one picks up at home, the caller will be transferred into voicemail.
Similar to Find Me, Follow Me is the unified messaging feature Short Message Service (SMS). With SMS, the user is notified on the alphanumeric display of their cell phone that they have a message waiting for them in their inbox. If it is an email message, a small amount of text, the sender and the time the message arrived is all included on the display. If it is a voice message, the user can view the caller ID and time the message was received. SMS notifies the user of a fax message by including the number of pages and the time the fax was received. Users can also specify that they only want SMS to notify them of a message if it is urgent or from a particular person such as their manager or team member.
Return on Investment
The increased productivity, time savings and flexibility of unified messaging translate into valuable cost savings. A recent industry study published by Comgroup, an independent telecommunications consulting firm, measured unified messaging's effects on time savings and productivity. The study found that by utilizing unified messaging, mobile users experienced a time savings gain of 70 percent when compared to the traditional means of checking messages. The first facet of the study compared users who were able to review and manage all of their voice, fax, and email messages over the telephone using unified messaging with those who check messages on the road the conventional way by calling in over the telephone to listen to voice messages; calling an assistant at the main office to send faxes to the nearest fax machine; and connecting to the Internet with a laptop computer to download and check emails. One important point to note is that with unified messaging, mobile employees always have access to all of their messages at anytime. However, with the traditional means of retrieving messages on the road, users must often rely on in-office personnel for some messaging tasks such as forwarding a fax.
Office workers also gain significant and measurable time savings by having all voice, fax, and email messages displayed in a single interface. According to the study, users experienced a 53 percent time-savings using unified messaging to check all of their messages from within their familiar Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook interface, as opposed to the traditional means of checking voice messages over the telephone, fax messages at the fax machine, and emails at the desktop PC.
Perhaps the greatest time savings associated with unified messaging is realized through the desktop faxing application. Many employees spend a large part of their day, going back and forth between their desk and the central fax machine; standing in line to send a fax; checking on that fax to make sure it went through; or checking to see if the fax they are waiting for has arrived. The study found that deploying desktop faxing with a unified messaging system resulted in a 80 percent time savings compared to traditional means of sending a document from a stand-alone fax machine.
While some IT managers worry that they cannot afford to deploy unified messaging within their company, the study found that an average size system pays for itself in 68 business days.
Ease of Administration
In addition to increased productivity, time and cost savings, unified messaging can also make the life of an IT administrator much easier. Having an open standards-based platform without a proprietary user interface is the key to any system administrator. Not only is the graphical environment familiar, the system is simple to manage because it's based upon standard systems the company already knows and owns. A complete unified messaging solution will also provide the end user with the choice of either client or server based unified messaging. With client based unified messaging, messages are stored on both the email and voice mail server. Where as with server based unified messaging, messages are collected in a universal store. There are advantages and disadvantages with each style of integration, however, the end user should be given a choice so that they can configure the system so that it is tailored to their needs.
Paramount to a successful messaging network is the ability to maintain up-to-date and accurate user data on each node in the network. Certain unified messaging solutions include a feature that eliminates this challenge by automatically synchronizing user and server data across the Internet. This enhancement dramatically reduces the maintenance tasks for the system administrator and ensures all users across all locations are able to seamlessly communicate as easily as if they were in the same location.
Nine "Must-Have" Features You Should Know About Unified Messaging
Today's business world is more competitive than ever before. With business taking place around the globe, professionals are becoming increasingly mobile, which is placing a greater value on efficient communication. Companies are searching for technologies that will allow them to provide the highest quality customer service, while giving them a competitive advantage in the marketplace. One particular technology many companies are turning to is unified messaging. This communication tool increases productivity, facilitates mobility, and gives companies the competitive advantage they are looking for.
Unified messaging gives users access to all three message types-voice, fax, and email-from a single location? However, there are nine "must-have" features that one should expect with their new unified messaging system. The first feature one should look for is having multiple message types-voice, fax, and email-arrive at a desktop user interface such as Microsoft Outlook/Exchange or Lotus Notes. From one of these popular email programs user will be able to see all three messages waiting in their inbox-each message distinguishable by an easy to read graphical icon.
The second "must-have" is users should be able to manage all three message types from the telephone, allowing individuals to receive messages when they are out of the office and don't have access to their PC. However, if mobile professionals are on the road and do have access to their laptop, the right unified messaging system should provide access to their messages through a web browser of their choice.
The third major important feature of a unified messaging system should be its scalability. IS managers should be able to take advantage of multiple server scalability, both horizontally and vertically. The systems should work together to increase the number of users supported within the network. At the same time, system applications such as fax, Interactive Voice Response (IVR), and digital networking, should have the potential to be scaled across multiple servers to increase the overall breadth of the systems applications and to provide optimum, high speed performance.
The fourth "must-have," is companies should have the ability to add other computer telephony integrated applications in the future, providing themselves with the flexibility to meet the needs of their growing organization. By having the ability to add features such as workgroup call management, call center productivity, IVR tools, companies are better able to service their customers needs in an efficient manner, while re-deploying employees on more mission critical assignments.
The fifth option that should be available with a unified messaging system is networking. This feature gives companies the ability to network multiple offices together whether the offices are located in one city or spread across the world. With networking the boundaries of a company's unified messaging systems become transparent, allowing users to communicate with remote subscribers as easily as they do with local subscribers. It is also very important that the vendor support digital networking formats, such as Voice Profile for Internet Mail (VPIM), which allows users to send messages across the Internet or corporate Intranet. This type of message transmission speeds message delivery, saves money, and improves the quality of the received message, while using a company's existing infrastructure. Also, in this age of business mergers and acquisitions, many companies are facing the challenge of combining a variety of messaging systems, most of which were never meant to work together. VPIM bridges this gap, providing inter-vendor compatibility.
Having a unified messaging system that is easy to administer is the sixth "must-have" feature of a unified messaging system, it is also the biggest concern of any IS manager. Having an open standards-based platform without a proprietary user interface is the key to any system administrator, and is also the seventh "must-have". Not only is the graphical environment familiar, the system is simple to manage because it's based upon standard systems the company already knows and owns. A complete unified messaging solution will also provide the end user with the choice of either client or server based unified messaging, which is our eighth "must-have" feature. With client based unified messaging, messages are stored on both the email and voice mail server. Where as with server based unified messaging, messages are collected in a universal store. There are advantages and disadvantages with each style of integration, however, the end user should be given a choice so that they can configure the system so that it is tailored to their needs.
Finally, it is extremely beneficial to select a vendor that has a strong proven reputation for both its service and support. Starting with a vendor that has proven itself as a leader in being the first to deliver innovative solutions to the marketplace is a great place to begin the search for the right unified messaging system. Vendors with an extensive and satisfied installed base tend to be better able to service the needs of its customers.
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