Consider the perspective of an outsider coming to an IP communications trade event such ITEXPO West
, where row upon row of exhibitors in a show room, and room upon room of speakers in break-out sessions discuss, in meticulous detail, the how and why of technologies such as VoIP, unified communications, SIP trunking and interactive voice response.
For that outsider, a sign pointing toward “Voicemail Replacement” may appear as a welcome, familiar term amid all the technical language – even the technophobes among us know what it means to have an answering machine or service, after all.
Yet, as an official with an Indianapolis-based provider of unified business communications solutions for contact center automation, enterprise IP telephony and enterprise messaging told TMCnet in an interview (printed in full below), voicemail has come a long way since it was patented three decades ago.
Today, if a business wants voicemail that will scale and integrates with its wider unified communications system, an upgrade – or replacement – may be in order.
For Mark Kowal, manager of product marketing at Interactive Intelligence Inc.
, a legacy voicemail system that’s approaching the end of its life signals an opportunity to embrace a replacement system such as those that are part of his company’s so-called “Messaging Interaction Center.”
We put some questions to Kowal about voicemail replacement and about Interactive Intelligence’s (News
) MIC system, talking about SIP integration and the future of voicemail technology, among other things.
Our exchange follows.
TMCnet: It seems that one of the main selling points of Interactive Intelligence’s “Messaging Interaction Center” is its voicemail system, especially for companies seeking to replace their legacy equipment. To casual observers, voicemail is just voicemail – most of us had answering machines at home, for example, long before “IP telephony” had been coined. Can you talk to us a little about the benefits of MIC’s voicemail functionality?
Mark Kowal (pictured left)
: You’re right. Voicemail is voicemail. And for those who can get away with a simple answering machine-like product – one that doesn’t scale, has no fault tolerance, and forces you to learn new features each time you upgrade – then you’ll be happy with the same old solution offered back in 1979 when Gordon Matthews received the first patent for voicemail. But the truth is, business is changing and the need for messaging solutions must adapt to those changes beyond just voicemail. We developed Messaging Interaction Center to address the growing opportunities brought on by the “end-of-life” of several legacy voicemail systems initially manufactured and sold in the 80’s and 90’s by companies like Nortel (News
), Avaya, Digital Sound, Centigram and Mitel.
Using the Interactive Intelligence all-in-one platform – first launched in 1997 – we simply took certain existing messaging components to create MIC, which today offers features such as voicemail, fax, unified messaging, find-me/follow-me, speech recognition, IVR, and audio conferencing. By leveraging the power of this single, open, software-based platform, MIC gives customers a complete unified communications solution based on a reliable, flexible, easily managed, and scalable SIP-based architecture – one that supports hundreds of thousands of users across single or multiple sites. And because MIC runs on our all-in-one platform, customers inherently receive the benefit of initially deploying a simple voicemail/messaging solution, then migrating to enhanced messaging/UC and even sophisticated contact center solutions across the enterprise without costly and time-consuming forklift upgrades or integration.
TMCnet: We know that Interactive Intelligence’s voicemail system works with PBX (News - Alert) and Centrex systems. Some IT and IP communications insiders have told us that they view SIP-based VoIP systems as an emerging industry standard. What do you think about that notion, and does MIC voicemail work with SIP-based systems?
MK: MIC has used SIP since 2003 – well before the industry adopted it as the new standard. Interactive Intelligence uses SIP as its core telephony protocol and integrates natively to most SIP-based PBX and Centrex systems. Because of our experience in the market, the majority of the solutions that we sell are now SIP-based. However, to help customers in their transition to SIP, we also offer PBX to IP gateways to integrate to non-SIP-based PBX and Centrex systems. This enables customers to easily migrate to native SIP once they decide to either replace or SIP-enable their PBX or Centrex system.
TMCnet: What sorts of verticals are showing the most interest in MIC and voicemail replacement? Healthcare? Education? What sort of common qualities and needs do these organizations have?
MK: We initially marketed MIC to the higher education vertical because those institutions showed a lot of receptivity to new technology and many had deployed large-scale, multi-site voicemail systems. As a result of our success within higher education, other verticals are increasingly showing interest in MIC, particularly those that have existing legacy voice systems nearing end-of-life, those that want to migrate to VoIP, and those that are interested in enhanced applications such as speech recognition.
TMCnet: It seems like the guiding principle behind MIC is to deliver all kinds of messaging – whether it’s voice, fax, e-mail or something else – to an individual worker’s PC. Does that sound about right? Can you talk a little about where you see this technology headed?
MK: From an individual user perspective, that’s about right, with the added flexibility of enabling those workers to manage messages via the Web, a TUI via touchtone, or a speech-enabled TUI for “anytime, anywhere” communications. From an organizational perspective, MIC delivers a replacement solution that enables organizations to easily migrate from their legacy voicemail systems to enhanced applications as they need to – up to, and including a complete business communications system for the entire enterprise.
The need for an easily managed, scalable, feature-rich, and fault-tolerant solution has recently ushered in the “unified communications” era. The interesting thing is that we’ve offered a unified, all-in-one communications platform since 1997. So whatever new functionality, advances in SIP standards, or other technology progress is in store, we’ll use our UC head-start, along with our culture founded on the basis of innovation, to keep giving customers the most cost-effective, feature-rich, scalable, reliable and flexible solutions on the market.
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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Michael Dinan