A couple of weeks ago I attended a class to prepare me for what’s sure to be a busy year implementing Exchange 2007 for our clients and although the new PowerShell command line interface elicited repeated groans from the administrators who will need to learn the new syntax, one new feature that really generated excitement (myself included) was Unified Messaging and especially Outlook Voice Access (OVA).
OVA is one component of the new Unified Messaging server role now included in this latest version of Microsoft’s email server. Unified messaging’s goal is to consolidate as many communication types as possible into a single inbox and Exchange does this by treating email, faxes, and voicemail as just another message which can be accessed through corporate Outlook, Outlook Anywhere (Formerly Outlook over the Internet), Outlook Web Access, Outlook Mobile Access and now using just using your phone while on the run. Not sure? Then check out this demo at the Spoken Word MSDN blog: http://blogs.msdn.com/spokenword/archive/2006/06/21/outlook-voice-access-demo.aspx
Can you imagine calling a single number and having access to your email, voicemail, calendar, contacts, and the entire company’s phone directory? I can and I like it! Not only will OVA read your emails and play your voicemail, it will also allow you to tell meeting attendees you’re running late, cancel a meeting, or clear an entire day’s meeting with a simple voice command. I was also impressed with the voice user interface which I found to be extremely well designed with clear and most importantly, concise voice prompts provided by the system. I don’t know about you but I’m just too impatient to listen to a computer run on and on about itself.
I really see some opportunity for cost savings and extremely improved end-user productivity using OVA and Unified Messaging:
- Email, fax and voicemail services can be consolidated without the need for separate systems and hardware.
- The consolidated services can be archived and backed up from one location.
- Inbound corporate communications can be secured as a single entity through extensive policy-based controls included in Exchange.
- A single location used for contact information utilizing Exchange’s Global Address List. If you have Exchange, you’re already using this, so why not extend it to your phone system?
- Add Communication Server 2007 and calls can be intelligently routed using your Office Communicator connection status to the user’s home office or cell phone.
Keep in mind that converting to unified messaging is not an overnight task and it should be treated as any other major project. Things you’ll need to make this transition are:
- If you’re using an IP-based PBX system, no new hardware is required since Exchange can natively support these systems.
- If you have a standard PBX system you’ll need a VOIP gateway which interfaces with the legacy PBX system.
- Additional storage for mailboxes – Although compression will reduce a 30 second voicemail down to something comparable to a document attachment, you’ll need to consider the effects of this additional data.
- Involvement and support from your telecommunications group.
Jonathan Connery MCSE+I, MCSD
Senior Systems Architect
Infrastructure Optimization Team