Eileen blogged a few days back about her frustration that we can't roll out Unified Messaging any quicker, and I want it for one reason and one reason only.
A while back I wrote about Stupid phones. I listened to Gurdeep at TechReady saying that his phone hasn't learnt any new tricks in 20 years. Voice mail hasn't evolved in 20 years either. My dad was working at Citibank in the 1980s when they introduced voice mail. He used Lotus 123 for DOS on an 8MHz IBM PC AT. Hardly anyone used E-mail - so if you had it, you couldn't send to anyone else. Windows was a glint in the Developer's eye. This seems about as far removed from Today's technology as the Model-T Ford or the Phonograph.
What's the biggest technology advance in that time ? Not PCs. Mobile phones, in Europe the market is saturated with them - it always amazes me the number of people who carry more than one. Voice mail's interface - keying in DTMF tones - was designed for an era of desktop phones which were used two handed. But when you keep having to take a one piece phone from your ear to tell the system what to do, it's clunky at best - and as for listening to messages while driving - that's downright Dangerous.
My hatred of DTMF isn't confined to voice mail. "Thank you for calling [insurance company]. So we can route you the right place, please enter your 64 digit policy number." Sorry. I'm the customer. I expect your people to be able to talk to me about house or car insurance. You can find me up from my postcode and name (which I can tell you while driving by the way). If my house has burnt down I won't have my policy documents to hand, will I ? What's more I know if I don't enter anything I'll drop out of your phone tree nightmare and end up with a human. If I put in the number I'll be listening to nauseating hold music for ages. "Your custom is important to us" it will tell me every 30 seconds - making wonder how long you make me wait to talk to someone undertrained and underpaid if it wasn't.
Voice recognition is not a new technology - mobile phones have had voice calling for years - and better organizations have it in place of (or as well as) the dreaded phone tree. What I hadn't seen until last year was Voice controlled voice mail. That's what we get with Exchange Unified Messaging. If I can say "Voice mail" to my phone and have it dial into the system , enter my mailbox and PIN then I expect to be able to say things like "Record new message" "Play" "Delete" "Next" or "Previous" to the VM system and have it respond. In the "Devil wears Prada" UC Video there' a great illustration of this about 2:40 in - try doing your voice mail while carrying 3 bags and a tray of coffees.
The other big plus with unified communications is I'm not good at polling for information. I don't poll web sites. RSS means information comes to me (and there's a warning there for anyone who doesn't implement RSS and expects people to poll their sites). For me, needing to check a siloed Voice mail system is a BAD THING. Having my voice messages come to me with the mail - Unifed communications - is a better way to work.
These are pluses for the user. The "new tricks" that phones and voice mail have found it so hard to learn. But there are cost savings to be had too. Somehow when I got back from Techready I locked myself out of my voice mail. Voice mail is a totally siloed system, as a user I can't reset my pin from anything but the VM system. So I have to call the help desk ... but it turns out the help desk doesn't take calls requesting password resets any more, nor can you email a request. You have to connect to an intranet website, and with all the work going on round our road show I haven't been on the corporate network since I locked myself out. (Why would I VPN in, when Communicator, Outlook and Groove give me all the connections I need ?). In Unified messaging the voice mail PIN is an attribute in Active Directory. I'm not sure if it can be reset via Outlook web access (in the way that you can reset a password or wipe a mobile device) but it would be very easy to provide a self service page for users to do this. Result, lower help desk costs, not to mention fewer people wondering why my voice mail greeting is out of date and I haven't been returning their calls. All these things add up to saying that voice as I've known it for the last 20 -25 years isn't fit to survive. And we know what happens to species like like.