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Electronic messaging.

Nearly every business person knows the horrors of playing telephone tag. It isn't unusual to make a dozen phone calls--or attempts--daily. From your New York office you may phone a sales rep at your company's Chicago branch. She's not in, so, you leave a message for her.

In the meantime, you have a meeting across town. When you get back an hour later, you discover that the Chicago rep has returned your phone call. Immediately, you call back, but now she's out to lunch. And the cycle continues.

It is understood that if employees are to work together effectively they must be able to communicate with one another effectively. Unfortunately, office communication is impeded when workers are geographically dispersed or are too active to be reached at all times.

But vendors are coming up with ways to help businesses avoid wasting hundreds of hours playing unproductive telephone tag. The market is saturated with interoffice technology products, including voice and electronic mail.

Vox It To Me

"The easiest and simplest solution to the telephone shuffle is voice mail," says Michael Clark, president of Richmond-based VOICE MAIL USA, which markets voice mail systems nationwide. "You've heard of fax it to me; now it's VOX (voice mailbox) it to me." Voice mail saves time and money.

"Voice mail can offer significant productivity and efficiency gains," says Clark. "It improves message content, cuts down the overall number of telephone calls and provides a 24-hour answering capability." It can ensure, for instance, that the receptionist isn't constantly on the phone saying: "Please hold, please hold."

From a customer service standpoint, voice mail can improve response time. Customer complaints are a sore thumb for any operation, and not getting answers fast enough is one major grievance.

Using voice mail, a caller can leave an accurate and detailed message on a voice mailbox if the party isn't there. Ideally, this message gives the person more to work with than a name and number on a pink memo slip, says Clark.

The voice mail industry was born out of frustration. granted, the earlier systems that emerged in the late 1980s met a great deal of resistance. This was partly because messages were hard to access, often disappearing into electronic black holes. despite the fact that some callers resent talking to a machine.

More than 15 million voice mailbox users exist. the $1 billion market is expected to more than double in size by 1995, according to Cedar Knolls, N.J.-based Probe Research Inc.

Voice mail traditionally has been a message taker--when someone calls, a message is taken electronically. Voice messaging, an extension of voice mail, allows for two-way communications within and outside a company. a voice mailbox user can send, receive, redirect and reply to messages or broadcast them to other network sers.

Imagine a business day where you send and respond to messages simply by pushing a key and speaking. Better still, imagine you could have a conversation with five, 10, 50 or even 200 business associates, locally or nationally, all of which is done simultaneously. This is possible through interactive voice messaging services.

Voice messaging isn't passive like an answering machine; instead it can be an active means of interoffice communications. Its value may be more apparent in businesses with mobile work forces and multiple work sites.

The leading voice mail vendor is Octel Communications Corp., Milpitas, Calif., which has a 22% market share. Other key players: VMX Inc., San Jose, Calif.; ROM Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.; and Northern Telecom Inc., Nashville, Tenn.

The main distinction among the various vendors' voice mail systems has to do with the type of PBS or switching device they interface with. But there are different degrees of functionality and features. Essentially, it is up to the subscriber to create a voice mail system that meets his or her company's needs. Therefore, most systems offer custom-designed menus, voice prompts, greetings and prerecorded announcements.

Ideally, the business should identify its most frequent callers: clients, customers, family members or friends. From there, the business can determine the level of functionality needed.

Furthermore, the flexibility of these systems makes it easier for businesses to handle callers who are put off by machines or who are "technophobic." In this case, you wouldn't let the telephone be the first voice they hear. One option would be to have two incoming lines. One could be used by repeat callers who are familiar with the system and confortable with it; they could call the voice mailbox directly. the second line could have a live operator at the other end to handle new callers.

Voice mail systems are available through any number of channels, including telephone systems dealers, voice processing manufacturers, subsidiaries of Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCS), telecommunications consultants and value-added resellers (VARS).

Initial installation fees can range anywhere from $5,000 for 50 users to $100,000 for 5,000 users. And that doesn't include maintenance fees, which generally are 5% to 10% of the purchase price per year. An alternative to on-premises equipment is to use automated telephone service bureaus. Monthly service charges range from $10 to $30.

Electronic Post Office

Another alternative to telephone tag and interoffice paper memos is electronic mail or e-mail. Using these computer-based programs, users can send and receive messages to and from each other. Just as the post office can deliver more than letters, the right e-mail package can deliver a variety of interactive information.

Today, some 20 million users in the United States transmit about 15 billion e-mail messages each year. There are three main options. A user can enlist a third-party service bureau that provides e-mail; use a public data network, such as CompuServe, Prodigy or America Online; or purchase an email software package that runs on large or personal computer systems.

The architecture of the office will dictate what e-mail system a business can set up, says Michael F. Cavanagh, executive director of the Electronic Mail Association, Arlington, Va. "In the mainframe environment, IBM Corp.'s PROFS dominates and in the minicomputer environment Digital Equipment Corp.'s (DEC)All-In-One mail program is more popular."

There are a host of e-mail packages for PC-based networks and LANs (local area networks). With some 1.5 million of its cc: Mail programs installed, Lotus Development Corp., Cambridge, Mass., is the market leader. Lotus acquired the pioneering LAN messaging package from cc: Mail Inc. a year ago.

Another popular program is LotusNotes, which incorporates e-mail and information-sharing applications. Other industry forerunners are MicrosoftMail for PC networks from Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, Wash., Higgins from Enable Software Inc. in Ballston Lake, N.Y., and DaVinci Mail from DaVinci Systems Corp, in Raleigh, N.C. (DaVinci recently purchased Action Technologies' famed groupware software The Coordinator).

In terms of the core of electronic messaging, the various systems are similar in functionability, although there are some distinctions in features, including work-flow automation, connectivity and mail-enabled applications.

Several companies are looking to e-mail networks for work-group applications in which employees can share all types of data using their computers. Whether managers are considering buying the first e-mail system or enhancing an existing one, they are faced with an emerging need for intercompany and international electronic communications. LotusNotes from Lotus Development Corp., provides an open platform for work group-based applications. It allows users to share all types of information: text, numerical data and graphics. LotusNotes sells at a minimum of 200 users at $400 per license ($295 for more than 2,500 users). Lotus also offers cc: Mail Gateway, which lets Notes and cc: Mail users exchange mail.


Many novice computer users have experienced the frustration of opening their owner's manual only to find themselves in a vacuum after reading a page or two. There are now a number of computer books on the market that may be a little easier to comprehend than the software vendors' manuals.

Ventana Press, a bookseller based in Chapel Hill, N.C., offers a wide selection of guide manuals on using your favorite computer software. Small and home-based business owners might find Ventana's Office Companion Series useful. These books often come in two versions to provide useful information for both PC and Mac users.

DOS(5.0), WordPerfect(5.1) and Lotus 1-2-3(2.3) are covered in DOS, WordPerfect & Lotus Office Companion, second edition ($19.95). And there's Windows, Word& Excel Office Companion ($21,95) for users of Microsoft Corp.'s leading business software programs.

These quick reference manuals offer comprehensive sections on the industry's leading operating systems, word processors and spreadsheet packages. Both books have various chapters that discuss basic features and commands and provide simple tutorials, tips, techniques and shortcuts. The Office Companion books also include samples of documents created with the different software applications.

Ventana Press also offers diskettes that you can download onto your personal computer. The DOS WordPerfect & Lotus Office Companion Diskette and the Windows. Word & Excel Office Companion Diskette each costs $16.95.

For more information, write to Ventana Press, P.O. Box 2468, Chapel Hill, NC 27515 or phone 919-942-0220.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related articles; voice and electronic mail
Author:Brown, Carolyn M.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Previous Article:Accounting for small businesses.
Next Article:Identifying 1990s racism.

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