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Intelligent Telephone-Electronic-Mail Unit Makes Communications Less Taxing for IRS.

Intelligent Telephone/Electronic-Mail Unit Makes Communications Less Taxing for IRS

"Even with all the advances in communications, executives still aren't talking to each other. They're talking to themselves.' Those are the words of Ron Renoud, chief of the planning and systems group and a member of the planning, budgeting and review staff for the Office of the Assistant Commissioner (Computer Services) of the Internal Revenue Service in Washington, DC.

His statement might seem superfluous, until you realize how Renoud feels about the office communications systems currently available. Computer-to-computer links put executives in dialogue with a machine. Electronic mail sends and receives messages. These communications tools work side by side, splintering the executive's focus.

Renoud feels that integration of computers and voice and data communications capabilities is the essential link that has been missing. That link could bring electronic communications closer to approximating the active give-and-take of human exchange, letting people do business the way they want rather than the way they must as prescribed by the limitations of electronic devices.

Last February, Renoud's search for such a system ended. He found the link he wanted in the form of Cygnet Technologies' CoSystem, an intelligent telephone/electronic-mail system that works in tandem with an IBM PC to collect and disseminate voice and data. He arranged for a demonstration at the IRS, where the system passed formal review. By early June, 10 units were installed in his section, with another 20 scheduled for installation by year-end.

Communications is a primary area of concern to Renoud. It is his responsibility to coordinate the automatic data processing plan for his particular IRS division. One of his functions is to evaluate, test and recommend technologies for use by the assistant commissioner and his staff in the Computer Services organization, which deals with hardware and software acquisition, information management and development of special data processing projects for the IRS nationwide.

The unit's quarters are in a large government building in Washington that spans the two blocks between 10th and 12th streets at Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues. Renoud reports to the assistant commissioner of Computer Services and has his own staff of 14. In addition, he coordinates the automatic data processing activities of the assistant commissioner's staff of 50. Offices occupy portions of the sixth floor, the third floor and another building across the street.

Before installing the CoSystem, communications was accomplished solely via traditional telephones and two electronic message systems--one for electronic mail and another for voice mail. Modems connected a variety of microcomputers for point-to-point communication.

These systems remain operative as the CoSystem is being introduced. So far, only key executives and staff members have the new equipment; and their response has been enthusiastic, according to Renoud, who's one of the senior managers who were assigned the hardware.

The Cygent system looks bascially like a telephone, yet offers a host of additional built-in features: 36 programmable keys for automatic dialing of voice and data numbers, a speaker phone, automatic redialing when a busy signal is received, and storage for a 400-name directory are some of the telephone functions of the system. Full electronic-mail capabilities, a connection with an IBM PC plus a modem and all the software needed for communications with data bases, terminals, mainframes and other personal computers, are what make the CoSystem a practical link for Renoud's communications needs.

Renoud says the system has already revolutionized his way of doing things. He estimates that time saved in any given workday runs as high as 20 to 30 percent. This savings comes largely from the elimination of "telephone tag,' that time-consuming process all too familiar to anyone in business whereby call after call fails to connect because people are away from their desks.

One-Touch Dialing Keeps People at His Fingertips

He uses just 12 of his programmable buttons for automatic dialing to keep in touch with his key people. To make a call, he presses one button, without needing to even lift the receiver. If his party answers, the call goes through. If he gets a busy signal, he presses "Automatic Redial' and goes on to other calls. If his party is out, he relays his message to the system at the other end, where it is stored until retrieved. "It puts my staff right at my fingertips,' he says, laughing, "I'm not sure how much they like that.'

Often, he bypasses phoning altogether and simply sends messages via the electronic-mail feature. "Most office communications are just a matter of passing on information and keeping people informed,' he says. Various studies suggest that just three to four minutes of every 15-minute call have to do with business. Renoud's experience confirms this. He estimates that the combination of "losing' at telephone tag and fulfilling the social amenities during calls that do connect make only a fragment of his telephone time productive.

"There's a kind of ritual in calling, especially with close coworkers,' he says. "You ask about the family and the dog. You talk about business in general, then you get down to the reason for your call, and wind up with more amenities. It all takes a lot of time.'

Renoud often uses his CoSystem to pass on information and skip the amenities. He believes that the flow of information has thereby become more efficient than ever before. He is away from his desk a great deal, but he receives messages directly into his device and can respond quickly. The system's flexibility allows him to read waiting messages on the PC screen, fire back his responses, save any information of significance, and initiate action or pass on information as he wishes. The information exchange is fast and reliable, and because it is on computer, it can be manipulated, moved around and stored.

Computer Link Lets Staff Function Freely

It is the link to the computer that gives Renoud and his staff the ability to function with full freedom. Renoud is the central point through which requests for data processing flow. The CoSystem permits free interchange with a sense of face-to-face dialogue, without ever leaving the office. This is the link that Renoud was searching for, and it performs as he hoped it would.

The CoSystem is equipped with software that permits it to communicate with a wide range of computer hardware. It stores configurations for 15 ASCII terminal profiles. It also supports PC-DOS, a potential problem for Renoud, however, since he has equipment outside that operating system. In addition to an array of microcomputers using CP/M, MS-DOS and others, there are the existing electronic-mail devices.

Because of this variety of computer operating systems, Renoud wanted to be able to communicate with all of them. He asked Cygnet to develop software that would make these connections and allow for data transfer utilizing the modem capabilities of the CoSystem. The Sunnyvale, California vendor responded by creating a special software package to fulfill this requirement. It is installed and functioning well, according to Renoud. (This software will soon be universally available.)

Renoud's organization is just one IRS group using the CoSystem. He says another group in the same building has more units than his, and both groups are expanding their use of it.

"It makes working a pleasure. It takes the drudgery out,' he adds. It has one disadvantage, though: He forgets phone numbers.

Photo: The Internal Revenue Service is now employing CoSystem (shown above), an intelligent telephone/electronic-mail system that works in tandem with an IBM Personal Computer.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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