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TMC Labs
February 2002

CallAttendant Office

ObjectWorld Inc.
Hull, Quebec, Canada
Ph: 819-770-9998
Fx: 819-770-8448
Web: www.objectworld.com

Price: Suggested list prices range from: 4 port/24 extensions at $3,500 to 32 port/144 extensions at $39,900. Upgrades range from $2,700 (4 port) to $5,300 (48 extensions). A Lucent TTS engine and integrated fax software are also available.

RATINGS (0-'5)
Installation: N/A
Documentation: 4.5
Features: 5.0
GUI: 5.0
Overall: A

Must a company harbor a massive phone bank fortified by a heavily tiered hierarchy of enthusiastic customer service supervisors, team leaders and lead CSRs to be considered a call center? Today, many call center solutions -- whether they're targeting the back office, front-line services, e-commerce assistance or, more commonly, a little of everything, seem to be geared for the larger call center environment. Perhaps rightly so. While most small to medium-sized businesses require large-call-center-type ideals to provide today's customer with superb customer service, the employment of a dedicated customer service staff of that magnitude is not financially practical or necessary. Nevertheless, no matter what its size, to function as a profitable company, a business must retain a healthy customer base -- and, therefore, consistent, high-quality customer relationships.

The 'Right' Degree Of Connectivity
In today's ocean of conglomerates, personal attention can often be found sinking to the sea bottom, drowning in a wake of price slashing, undercutting and wholesale buyouts. To compete, many smaller businesses must both rely and pride themselves on 'personalized relationships' with their customers. Instant access to company representatives helps create and sustain a healthy customer base that provides customers with the degree of personal care they demand. ObjectWorld has developed a unified communication solution that may provide the degree of connectivity a small to medium-sized business is searching for to maintain personal relationships with clients. Titled CallAttendant Office (CAO), this unified communications solution combines flagship features such as a personal auto-attendant with a drag-and-drop interface to control call flow, remote message notification and one-time messaging which targets messages for specific callers. CAO integrates with both Microsoft Outlook and a Nortel Norstar PBX. CAO also touts more traditional unified messaging features such as distributing calls to your desk or a remote location and conveying voice mail to your phone or inbox.

In order for TMC Labs to examine some CAO fundamentals, an ObjectWorld representative visited our office and brought an entire demo system: Nortel Norstar PBX, Dialogic D/82-JCT-U board (one free PCI bus slot is necessary for each card installed), punch-down block, Teltone simulator, NT 4.0 server with SP6a (minimum of 266 MHz processing speed if 4 Dialogic cards are installed), and Exchange Server 5.5 with SP3. Our equipment arrived with all server and CAO software installed and configured for the PBX, much the same way it would if a customer purchased CAO from a reseller. ObjectWorld employs trained and tested VARs to sell and implement their unified messaging solution. Administration can then be left up to the customer.

Although the CAO server software and Exchange software don't need to reside on the same machine, both must be added to the same domain. At the time of product review, CAO was compatible only with Nortel's Norstar PBX. ObjectWorld said it was working in conjunction with resellers who are also vending those particular phone systems. While the Norstar is a very capable phone system, provisioning for only this system is somewhat limiting. Although we realize CAO was built to function as a unit with the NorStar, this may inhibit otherwise interested parties with a phone system already in place. (By the time this review goes to press, CAO should also be compatible with Avaya's Merlin Magix.)

Essentially, during configuration, an Outlook account is created (or an existing administrative account can be used) for CAO, granting it the necessary permissions to access Exchange server mailboxes using them for the storing and retrieval of messages. This additionally integrates CAO with the Outlook Contact list. Finally, the Contact names are mapped to PBX extensions via the Administration GUI linking the two systems together. ObjectWorld says that a company can be up and running with its new CallAttendant system within one day.

Users are grouped into two different categories by the administration: personal auto-attendant users and personal voice mail users. Services are all easily applicable to trunks and extensions. Additionally, creating and managing users is done using existing Exchange accounts, without programming the PBX. Company greetings and auto-attendant are also programmable from this GUI. Although the system can be accessed from any PC with the CAO software installed, it would have been nice if all an administrator needed to do was launch a browser and type in a user name and password. Additionally, the administrator has access to trunk line and user logs, port status, the fax manager and the announcement manager, which allows company-wide access (a library of sorts) to phrases and greetings.

Personal Auto-Attendant (PAA)
The personal auto-attendant's drag-and-drop app-gen functionality impressed us. The service elements, as they're titled (building blocks), allow end users with the right permissions to very simply create their own call flow by building an audio menu with services and notifications specifically engineered to best suit their clients, callers, etc.

The GUI is equally impressive, so using the service elements in the toolbar, we created our own auto-attendant in a scant 20 minutes. The best way to describe the simplicity of this app-gen is to say that a user could make daily changes to his or her personal auto-attendant if need be. We quickly assembled an auto-attendant as intended for a fictitious salesperson in a small company. The menu we created allowed callers to reach this salesperson at any time by pressing '1' to dial his or her wireless phone number. Messages can be recorded through a user's extension (or with a PC's mic) for each service element to preface a menu item with, for example, 'I'm currently out of the office on a sales tour. To reach me on my wireless phone, press '1' now. If you'd like to place an order, Tom Green is taking new orders in my absence. Press '2' to reach Tom now,' and so on. Other service elements allowed us to verify a password to reach certain areas of the auto-attendant, use the TTS engine to 'say' menu items, forward a call that meets certain criteria or send a fax. Although this may be slightly outside of ObjectWorld's focus right now, perhaps a future release will contain a service element permitting ODBC connectivity. For example, some companies may want to give clients the option to check their records for items such as total orders for the month, pricing and inventory.

Personal Voice Mail (PVM)
If users aren't granted PAA permissions by the administrator, they'll have access to a portion of the PAA's functionality through the PVM interface, which includes the ability to record greetings for different callers, the notification and reception of phone messages to remote locations and access to one-time messaging.

We also found one-time messaging particularly useful to bolster client relations and additionally, capable of relaying information in cases when leaving sensitive information, or repeated messages on a home answering machine, for example, can be damaging to a relationship. Further, it relieves the necessity of contact by a company representative, or a callback. Based on ANI and CAO's integration with Outlook's Contact list, a user can record a message for a specific caller. For example, 'Mr. Smith, unfortunately your credit has been denied. Please call Jim at extension 222 if you are interested in making an alternate arrangement.' After the one-time message is played for the intended party, CAO deletes it.

Active Messaging is another distinguishing feature of CAO. This feature enabled us to listen to messages from a remote location as they arrived. The feature also provides the option to choose only specific callers from whom to receive messages and a type of follow-me functionality which enables CAO to contact you at alternate locations should you not answer on the first attempt. It's also possible to set this feature for specific days and times; for example, a user can disable the system from ringing his or her home phone on a Saturday with a work-related message.

Some other features of the GUI include voice message playback via phone or desktop; the ability to reply to internal voice messages by e-mail; the ability to record and modify external and internal greetings; and functionality to copy, reply to and forward faxes to other fax devices. The telephone interface also permits access to many of the features available through the GUI as well. For example, a user can forward fax messages to another fax number, listen to e-mail using an available Lucent (3.2) TTS engine, change mailbox options, forward voice messages to another extension and record and modify greetings.

CallAttendant Office seems to focus not only on simplifying communication through the amalgamation of disparate media, it additionally appears to focus on providing end users with a unique tool set, allowing for personally managed communication and messaging. Further, CAO provisions for the extension beyond the desktop with many remote-notification-type features. All totaled, this may be a very compelling paradigm for small to medium-sized businesses that must sell first-rate, personalized customer service as a part of their product.

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