In a typical office, there are separate technologies for sending and receiving different kinds of messages. If someone calls and leaves you a voice message, then you need to go to your phone to retrieve the message. If someone sends you an e-mail, you need to turn on your computer, log into your e-mail account and read the message. If someone sends you a fax, you need to go over to the machine and check if it's come through.
With universal messaging, all of those messages -- voice, e-mail, fax -- are collected on a central server. The server converts all messages into digital data; voice mail messages become digital audio files that can be attached to e-mails, and fax data is converted into a digital image file like a PDF. The digital information on the central server can then be accessed through several different methods:
- With a simple software plug-in, you can configure an e-mail program like Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes to display not only e-mail messages, but voice mail and fax messages, too.
- By logging onto a universal messaging Web site (through a computer or any Internet-ready device), you can access all e-mails, voice mails and faxes in one place.
- Using any type of telephone, you can call into a universal-messaging system and listen to voice mails, listen to e-mails (using text-to-speech technology) and forward faxes to a nearby fax machine or alternate e-mail account.
A central concept of universal messaging is the idea of "your time" communications [source: International Engineering Consortium]. With universal messaging, you're no longer restricted to a certain location, schedule or communications platform. You have control over when you read and respond to messages, where you do it, and how you do it -- using your preferred communication platform, whether its e-mail, voice or fax.
Another central idea of universal messaging is notifications. Maybe you're a doctor, and it's important for you to receive messages quickly. With a universal-messaging system, you can set up notification rules. For example, if you're not logged into your e-mail account, but someone sends you an e-mail, the system can call your cell phone and read it to you. Or, maybe you want to receive a text message on your cell when someone leaves a voice mail on your home or work phones.
Text-to-speech and speech-recognition technology are two important components of universal-messaging systems. With text-to-speech, you can pick up your phone and have your e-mails read to you by an automated voice. And with speech recognition, you can navigate through your universal-messaging inbox using simple voice commands instead of pressing numbers on a keypad.
Now let's look at specific examples of the convenience of universal-messaging systems.