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March 1999

Next-Gen Messaging for Enterprise Storms Onto the Scene


Legacy enhanced services solutions are typically offered as independent services by separate units within a single service provider. For example, in a Post Telephone and Telegraph (PTT) Administration, it is typical for ISPs, and wireless and wireline providers to each have their own enhanced services solutions.

Until recently, this approach made sense since legacy enhanced services platforms lacked the flexibility to run multiple applications, couldn't run on multiple networks, and targeted customers by network types. Each business unit within the service provider organization chose the provider that best addressed the needs of their users. As such, service providers replicated investments and expenses with redundant platforms and personnel. In addition, end users of more than one of their service offerings - which in recent years became a fast growing number - were not well served, receiving messages in separate mailboxes with access limited to unique devices. As a result, end-user churn has been high, with enhanced services contributing to that churn instead of creating new value.

For decades, enterprises have invested in their own enhanced services infrastructure and personnel. Indeed, the enterprises saw themselves as running a captive telecommunications operation, buying only basic bandwidth from the public network. This network never served the enterprise well since its closed, proprietary solutions were designed for mass-market deployment. Major drawbacks of these incongruent solutions included a lack of unification, interoperability, and extensibility, limiting messaging effectiveness and reach.

When enterprises and service providers can get what they need from a single enhanced services platform, significant redundant costs can be eliminated. If these new platforms can also provide mechanisms for gradual migration from legacy platforms, it is only a matter of time before they are unified and brought into the unified messaging cloud.

Recent investments in next-gen (Internet telephony) networks have created an opportunity for significant changes in the telecommunications infrastructure. One such example is the eventual displacement of the traditional enterprise PBX. With these next-gen network investments, the telecommunications infrastructure will ultimately shift to become more open, bringing the rich features, flexibility, and control demanded by enterprises. In addition, openness will enable the extensibility needed to gradually migrate and enjoy unified messaging. Finally, the resulting cost reductions will make outsourcing a compelling consideration.

Once these technical and financial hurdles are addressed, organizational inertia will undoubtedly slow the pace of change. However, as evidenced by the adoption of Internet or intranet messaging by corporations - many of whom were attempting to solve the multinational branch office problem - that phenomena occurred as a result of dissemination by mid-level end users. Many users today enjoy feature-rich, broad, enterprise solutions while at work, but often have feature-limited solutions at home.

Next-gen messaging applications seek to broadly address issues of redundant cost and complicated messaging services by "unifying" them. Through common interfaces, users can access voice mail, e-mail, and fax messages using a wealth of devices, across a variety of networks.

In practice, what really matters to end users is easy to use, flexible messaging that is a natural extension of their personal style of communication. The way to deliver this next-gen messaging is to provide end users with messaging applications that meet their individual needs, based on the kind of devices, messaging applications, and usage patterns they desire. The following is a categorization of the various user groups.

Home Office/Consumers (1-4 people)
Explosive adoption of wireless voice and Internet services has lead to greater awareness of public messaging services, and an emerging desire for improved messaging. In single-line homes, consumers recognize telephone answering machines do not activate while they are accessing the Web. They are also cognizant of the fact that public messaging is a good alternative to a second line. Emphasizing simplicity and low bundled or usage-based pricing, consumers require a messaging service that is accessible by wireline or wireless phone as well as the Web. Finally, these users value "wireless hands-free" and multi-device "message waiting indicator" features. The urgency and complexity of their communications is low relative to business users, more voice-centric, and either directed to family and business associates or externally directed and highly varied. Therefore, white/yellow pages along with a unified address book spanning an array of messaging and real-time communications devices, is essential.

Small Business (5-50 people)
These users have similar needs to the previous segment, however, their communications are more internally directed, so a basic company directory with distribution list features is key. In addition, this segment uses e-mail with basic calendar collaboration. Since business e-mail users retain messages as a history or information base to track business interactions, disaster recovery backup services are key for all business segments.

Mid-sized Business (51-500 people)
These users have needs that are similar to the small business group. However, their internal communications needs are even greater, so they require advanced company directories and distribution lists, and enhanced calendar and public folder collaboration. Less cost sensitive, their pricing model is typically a capital decision. The number and complexity of messages are significant, and they generally have a higher proportion of e-mail messages. They are entrenched users of enterprise e-mail solutions and invest in their own Internet telephony and telecommunications infrastructure, so outsourcing services requires a new pricing model and a seamless migration path that allows for gradual replacement of current assets.

Enterprise (501+ people)
With needs similar in nature to those of the mid-sized business, the enterprise must also deal with the additional nuance of serving multilingual, distributed multinational, branch, and home offices. These users of enterprise e-mail solutions, who own their own Internet telephony and telecommunications infrastructure, have often integrated directly with their business processes. Therefore, line organizations are typically reluctant to consider alternatives to their corporate messaging applications. They are least cost sensitive, and their pricing model to date has been a capital decision.

It is prudent to look for next-gen messaging solutions, which simplify messaging for users of voice mail, e-mail, and fax. It is also important to simplify messaging for users of telephony, computing, mobile phone, and next-gen devices (wireless devices with sophisticated graphical user interfaces), by providing a single mailbox with common interfaces for all message types. This enables:

  • Minimal end-user behavior change - This is necessary when dovetailing with familiar e-mail/Internet messaging services. For the consumer, this may mean voice mail integrated with Web portal-based e-mail. For the business user, it might entail integration with Microsoft's Exchange Server or IBM Lotus Notes.
  • Intuitive telephone interface design - Adapts real time, knowing when users need help or streamlining as they require less.
  • End-user provisioning - A key benefit of unified messaging to service providers.
  • Unified personal address book - For broader communications reach.
  • Interoperable/message networking using industry standards. For gradual migration.

Many service providers are attempting to understand the implications of client-integrated versus server-integrated versus server unified messaging solutions when deploying public solutions. There are a number of options, which need to be considered in the context of providing tiered offerings and moving enterprise solutions to the cloud.

Client-Integrated Solutions
Client-integrated solutions provide a unified view of messages at the client end. This permits the end user to employ their current e-mail client, while accessing voice and fax messages. It does not, however, permit the end user to access e-mail via the telephone user interface. It can make message notification more complicated, since it needs to be activated on two servers. This solution unbundles e-mail from the voice and fax messaging solution, allowing the end user to pay only for the level of sophistication desired. This can be a low cost solution, which is an excellent approach for targeting consumers, home office, and small business users who may not need telephony access to e-mail and are relatively price sensitive.

Server-Integrated Solutions
The server-integrated solution has similar benefits to the client-integrated process, but provides a unified view of all message types via the telephone user interface and graphical user interface of the current e-mail client. This solution results in some compromise to collaboration and messaging notification, but once again, permits use of current e-mail solutions.

The server-integrated solution can also be accomplished as a Web-integrated server, using custom Web pages, and supporting popular thick and thin browsers. This may be a viable alternative for serving highly mobile users, next-gen device users, or price sensitive customers who want the benefits of a server-integrated solution.

Server-Unified Solutions
The server-unified solution results in a single message store, which means all messages can be accessed by both graphical and telephone user interfaces. Selecting an enterprise solution requires careful consideration of evolving capabilities to ensure the solution scales with availability. With enterprise solutions comes rich collaboration and message notification. This is a feature-rich, bundled, high-end solution, targeted for mid-sized business and enterprise users.

The server-unified solution can also be accomplished as a Web-unified server, using custom Web pages, and supporting popular thick and thin browsers. This may be a viable alternative for serving highly mobile users, next-gen device users, or price sensitive customers who want the benefits of a unified message store.

Using industry Internet standards, these three solution models can be distributed so they provide a smooth and gradual path for the enterprise to gradually migrate.

There is a great deal of unnecessary redundant cost in enabling enhanced services because their platforms have not been universally open, unified, or interoperable with current solutions. If these problems can be solved, public service providers can provide the feature richness, flexibility, and control required by enterprise users. The significant increase in communication breadth and reach, coupled with the significant reductions in cost, can provide a compelling business justification for unifying enterprise solutions.

There is a tiered segmentation that exists primarily by business size. Each of these business segments prefers not to lose existing e-mail. They can adjust to a different telephone user interface if the interface helps them to navigate through change. The different methods by which e-mail can be incorporated into the unified messaging solution provide a tiered offering that permits use of familiar e-mail solutions at varied price points with trade-offs in functionality. The use of Internet standards enables interoperability required to gradually migrate from current legacy solutions to new solutions in the cloud.

Mark Ozur is the president and CEO of PulsePoint Communications. Founded in 1977 as Digital Sound Corporation, PulsePoint Communications is a leading provider of enhanced-services solutions for the telecommunications industry. Specifically, the PulsePoint Communications family of products enable network carriers to offer a wide range of communication-management and messaging services to end users - from basic voice mail and fax mail services to more advanced unified messaging services, and personalized, integrated applications that operate on any network. For more information, visit the company's Web site at www.pulsepointcomm.com.

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