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Has unified messaging finally arrived?

Unified messaging products and services enable a company to make voice mail, e-mail, fax and other means of electronic communication available via a single device. Buzz for the concept has come and gone over the years and, during the last decade, vendors tried to generate interest in the technology without much success.

But the time for some businesses to consider unified messaging may have finally arrived. Lynda Starr, vice president of U.S. carrier research at Cedar Knolls, N.J.-based Probe Group LLC, said that a unified messaging system can provide a competitive advantage by helping a company keep communication costs down and serve customers more quickly. caught up with Starr to find out more.

Should unified messaging be an important part of a larger mobile strategy for businesses?
Yes. Part of the reason that unified messaging is appealing is that people are using an increasing number of communications devices. Eventually, people will get tired of having to carry a laptop, a phone, a BlackBerry, and a PDA. One of the reasons that people need so many devices is that there are so many messaging systems.

If I am an IT manager, I want to know that employees can get their messages regardless of what device they are using. Since so many employees are bringing wireless devices into the office and then expecting to be able to use them for work, it is important that IT departments get out in front on this trend -- so that they can set policies and make sure these systems are secure.

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 Are there any additional security concerns with unified messaging?
No. The concerns are largely the same [as with any type of messaging system]. Password protection is very important, and the human factor is a big problem there. You always have that person who opens up their briefcase and has a piece of paper taped to the inside with all of his passwords on it. That is always going to be a problem. Why might a business go with a service provider instead of an in-house system?
It depends on how much in-house support a business has to deploy and manage the system. Small businesses might want to use a service provider because they do not have the resources to manage it themselves. In a larger company, if unified messaging is being deployed only to small groups, such as a field sales force or top-level managers, it might make more sense to go with a service rather than making a hardware investment.

Businesses also need to consider how compatible the unified messaging system is with their existing e-mail and voice mail systems. In addition, the market is young and there are few standards, so that may stop some businesses from investing in the hardware. Are unified messaging systems generally offered by carriers, or are they in-house systems that enterprises manage themselves?
Comverse Inc. is one of the leading vendors, and it is selling both to businesses and carriers. Some wireless carriers and even wireline carriers are starting to deploy these services as well. If a business chooses to have unified messaging services provided by a carrier, does that mean handing over control of its e-mail to a carrier? Is that something that businesses are comfortable with?
That should not be too much of a concern. Carriers want to protect their own networks as much as they want to protect a customer's e-mail. A breach of security in a customer's e-mail or voice mail can make the carrier's network vulnerable. It's not something a customer should worry about. What kinds of businesses stand to benefit the most from unified messaging?
In large part, it is those businesses or people in the business that are on the road. Salespeople, field service employees, those in transportation, or anyone else that is out of the office regularly could benefit from this. Why would a business consider unified messaging? What problems do unified messaging product solve?
The increased interest in unified messaging is being driven by an increased need for mobility, combined with the need for availability, whether it is salespeople who are often on the move, or managers who might need to sign off on important deals while away from the office. If you can reach people wherever they are, in a medium [where] they can easily receive and respond to [messages], then they can react more quickly. What other benefits could a company gain from unified messaging?
One benefit might be increased responsiveness. You could look at how fast orders are processed or how quickly sales are billed. Businesses may see a reduction in communication costs because people can be reached wherever they are, so they are returning fewer calls. There will also likely be an increase in the effectiveness of doing business because people will not be leaving messages back and forth for each other. Companies can conduct business more quickly because you won't have these back-and-forth e-mail correspondences that can go on for a day or two.

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