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The Changing Voice of Voice Mail

At VoiceCon Orlando, Marty Parker and I will be moderating a panel discussion about "How Much Voice Mail Do You Really Need?" with speakers from AVST, Avaya, Cisco and Microsoft. The session's premise is that even though the need for voice mail is changing significantly due to evolving voice-calling patterns and the availability of alternative communication modes, voice mail remains an important tool for controlling costs, serving customers and enhancing workflows.The result is new voice mail requirements as well as new products. There is a new breed of voice messaging systems that focus on call answering, notification, and voice services, as well as unified messaging systems that offer mobile notification and speech-to-text capabilities, plus voice portals that offer speech attendants and application options.

We now have more communication and messaging options than ever before--instant messaging and email are taking over as the primary messaging modes, as the use of voice mail decreases. If you were asked which messaging mode you would be willing to give up for a week, I bet it would be voice mail--followed by IM and lastly email. It's hard to get work done without access to email, but many of us go days without receiving a voice mail message, especially for our office phones.

Often times when people make a phone call and don't reach the intended recipient at their home or office, they hang up and call that person's cell phone and leave a message there if there's no answer. The need for true voice messaging--providing the ability to log in, to record and send a message to one or more addresses, to forward stored voice messages between users and to broadcast messages--as opposed to telephone answering--recording a message from the caller to a busy or unanswered number--has also decreased. If a broadcast message needs to be distributed among workers, it's likely to be an email rather than a voice message. And increasingly, voice messages that need to be distributed are sent as email attachments.

Users will continue to pay for unified messaging, but UM prices have dropped considerably in the past two years, thanks mostly to Microsoft's introduction of Unified Messaging in Exchange with speech interface capabilities for only $25/seat.

Additionally, many of the functions that were previously associated with unified messaging are now part of a unified communications solution. Advanced features such as find me/follow me became part of vendors' PBX function or of the UC mobility offerings, and are less specific to the messaging platform.

On the bright side, unified messaging has garnered more attention and customers have more options now than ever before. Thanks to the iPhone, visual voice mail is becoming all the rage. Of course this is a capability that has been part of UM systems for years, but now people expect to see their voice mail messages in visual form in their inbox.

Calendar integration and speech technologies (text-to-speech to translate email messages into speech, and for speech command and control of messaging capabilities) will continue to be add-on enhancements for those who need it, providing enhanced value to UM systems.

There are also new developments and integrations that are making unified messaging solutions more powerful. By integrating the enterprise's presence solution with its voice mail systems, presence capabilities get tied in to the user's mailbox, providing more compelling functionality. For example, when I receive a voice message from Marty, I can see his presence status and availability next to his name in my inbox, and if the system is unified communications-enabled, I can click on his name and be connected via click-to-call capabilities.

I'll be releasing my updated UM study, including a vendor positioning quadrant, so stay tuned. And please be sure to stop by the session "How Much Voice Mail Do You Really Need?" (Wednesday, Mar 24, 8:00-8:45 am) while you're at VoiceCon - and bring your questions.