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Unified Messaging (UM)

Unified messaging allows users to send email, faxes, and voice mail from a single piece of software. Traditional systems only let users send one type of message (i.e., email from email software, faxes from fax software, and voice mail from voice software). Unified messaging stores all messages in a single system.

Moreover, with unified messaging systems often have ancillary capabilities like optical character recognition (OCR), voice recognition and voice synthesis, and so it becomes possible to hear received faxes and to read received voice mails. This also creates new possibilities for communications, like the ability to attach documents to voice mails that are sent to a unified messaging mailbox.

Unified messaging was initially expected to fast become a leading technology. Unified messaging solutions are starting to find acceptance in the corporate marketplace, but only after years of slow acceptance due to the complexity of the products. The solution started out as an upgrade to conventional voice mail systems and, initially, Cisco and Avaya were the leading suppliers. Still, some businesses find unified messaging solutions to be too difficult for their workforces to handle. But, now, with Microsoft also in play with a unified messaging solution in its Exchange product, the market is finally starting to fulfill its promise.

Unified Messaging is a vague term that generally means the ability to include faxes and voice mail in an emailbox. Generally, as well, unified messaging is differentiated from unified communications because the latter also includes short message services (SMS), instant messaging, presence (the ability for users to know where is the person they are trying to reach), speech access and personal assistants, collaboration tools, and even Web and video/teleconferencing. Some people say that unified messaging only covers store-and-forward communications while unified communications covers real-time communications too, but Davidson Consulting considers fax a real-time communication mode.

Cisco offers the Unified Communications Manager, an enterprise-class IP telephony call processing system that provides traditional telephony features as well as advanced capabilities, including the ability to receive faxes and email along with voice mail. The offering builds productivity by enabling workers to spend less time tracking down the various types of communications and more time in being productive. It also enables mobility by allowing workers access to their messages anywhere they have web access.

Avaya offers two products, Avaya Modular Messaging and Avaya CallPilot. Modular Messaging keeps messages accessible anytime, anywhere from a wide array of devices including phones, fax machines, and PCs. This flexibility enhances employee productivity, helping to improve customer satisfaction, lower costs, and drive revenue. CallPilot, a product that Avaya acquired when it bought Nortel, provides voice/fax messaging and integrated unified messaging capabilities through the user’s familiar desktop e-mail environment. It also offers Web-based unified messaging and personal mailbox management through My CallPilot.

Microsoft Exchange Server, the driving force behind Microsoft’s unified messaging solution, is a flexible messaging platform that can help businesses lower their messaging costs by 50-80% and increase productivity with anywhere access to business communications. With Exchange, users can securely access their communications – e-mail, voice mail, and can send faxes (but not receive them) – from virtually any platform, web browser, or device. Although Microsoft did not include a fax reception capability in Exchange Server 2010, such capabilities are available from virtually all fax server suppliers, including Open Text, Sagemcom, Biscom, FaxBack and FaxCore.

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