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Unified Communications Magazine July 2007                                                                                                                Volume 1 / Number 1



Voicemail is Dead! Long Live Voicemail

By Rich Tehrani, Publisher's Outlook


Launching a new magazine is always an exhilarating process here at TMC, particularly in the case of Unified Communications, which has both timely subject matter and a unique 'landscape' design. I can tell from this magazine's rapidly expanding subscription list that the future looks bright for both our new magazine and this exciting and burgeoning technology.

For years voicemail was the great bugaboo that drove people crazy. Not that voicemail itself drives people crazy - people wielding voicemail are the culprits, generally by way of Voice Tag ('I missed your call again, so I'm leaving you this message again.') and Voicemail Jail ("I'm leaving you this message because I think you haven't gotten to the one that I left last week."). Fortunately, unified communications and presence technology can almost guarantee that a call will reach the intended party.

As for voicemail itself, it will be integrated into some kind of unified messaging list that encompasses voice, email, fax and whatever else you can think of. It's okay with me if voicemail loses its old persona, since I've always been more "email-centric" than "voicemail-centric" anyway. Indeed, I'm usually so engrossed in dealing with the continuous deluge of email that I rarely get a chance to check my more ponderous voicemail system. I've even tried some instant messaging clients, but I only use them when I need to get a quick answer or as a means to schedule a quick conference call. After all, it's easier to say things than to write them, and that's why I'm intrigued with the whole field of "voicemail transcription", otherwise known as voicemail-to-text.

Vonage offers this service, and SpinVox (www.spinvox.com) offers Spinmy- Vmail, a product that automatically sends your voicemail messages to you as text messages or emails. I tried the service and it practically blew me away. The quality of the Spin-my-Vmail service has been incredible, allowing me to ascertain what callers want without having to call in to listen to messages.

For example, I was recently in a conference where I couldn't take calls. I did however receive a SpinVox-powered voicemail transcription from one of my toddlers: "Daddy. I want Daddy to talk. Bye." Cute and heartwarming.

SpinVox's VP of Strategy & Development Daniel Doulton explained to me that in the UK the company has over 150,000 users and they believe they have perfected their service and it's ready for the U.S. market. It is does seem better at speaker independent speech recognition than many other solutions, being about 95 to 100% accurate. It's pretty fast too: a 15-second voicemail shows up in as little as a minute or two. A three-minute voicemail takes about ten minutes to arrive.

Why a "Horizontal" Magazine?

More and more readers tell me they read the digital issues of publications. But when a print magazine's multicolumn vertical format is ported over into digital form and read on a horizontal PC screen, readers complain they don't like to scroll up and down as they read each page. That's why, when we began formulating UC Magazine, we decided we would solve this problem once and for all by designing the magazine for the PC screen first, without forsaking the magazine's ability to be read in paper form. Thus, you should be able to read an entire page at a time on your screen without scrolling.

We hope you enjoy this new way of reading magazines and we welcome your feedback on this new idea. Do you think UC will lead the way for all other magazines or do you feel this new format will remain a niche idea?

Basically, I no longer have to check my voicemail unless there's a discrepancy in the email. In about one out of five or ten emails I do call into the system to check a message for accuracy, but even when I need to do this, the system makes it easy since embedded in the emails is a code allowing instant access to the voicemail in question. However, you do first need to dial into the system to listen to the message. And when calling from a cellphone, the system recognizes your cellphone number so you have to block your Caller ID (*67 in the U.S.) to leave a message for yourself. If not, then you go straight into the administration menu.

SpinVox's main competitor is SimulScribe (www.simulscrsibe.com). The company's CEO, James Siminoff, had previously launched a successful prepaid calling card business. One day while having a casual conversation with his calling card business partner and his son, the topic of voicemail came up. The general opinion was, wouldn't it be great if you could read your voicemail instead of listening to it? Shortly thereafter the company developed a prototype system and used it internally. Then it was rolled out to a few friends and family members. It was a fun side project. In late 2005 the company decided to focus on voicemail transcription as a business model and SimulScribe was born.

Siminoff tells me his service is the only one which has been rolled out by a major carrier (Vonage) and can actually be billed by the carrier. Other SimulScribe service provider customers are M5 and FreedomVoice. The company is in some stage of discussions with over 33 carriers globally.

Siminoff says that the security in his company's service is first-rate, and whatever you feel comfortable doing with your email you can do with their service too. He also points out that his service can bring UC into a company with virtually no pain or investment.

Siminoff says SimulScribe is the most flexible service from a delivery standpoint because he and his staff were users of their own product for some time and so they built in the features they needed before they rolled it out to the public. For example, there's an application called SimulSays which features a GUI that sits on a Blackberry and soon Windows Mobile devices (more devices will be supported soon). The app stores the transcribed text along with the voice file, so you can listen to messages without using up network minutes. You can also listen where there's no cellular access, such as on an airplane. Voice files can be sent in various formats: WAV, MP3 or WMA. You can delete, move or otherwise manage your messages via a web interface, something the competition doesn't yet have.

Siminoff claims that SimulScribe can save you three hours a month. I have no doubt that a busy executive can see savings in this range. This also correlates with my own experience using SpinVox. More importantly, with voicemail transcription you can be on a call and simultaneously read voicemails from other callers. You can also archive your voicemails and search for that useful nugget of information stored in a three-minute voicemail from 18 months ago.

I can tell you from months of personal experience that using voicemail transcription is a liberating experience and you can't easily stop using it once you become accustomed. Regardless of which service you favor, I urge you to try voicemail transcription for yourself if you are interested in saving time and becoming more productive.


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