By Frank D’Ascenzo
It’s likely the Internet may have a greater effect on the live-answer, message center industry than answering machines, voicemail, alpha paging, and wireless telephones combined. The operative factor is something called Unified Messaging, a messaging concept in development over the past several years for application incorporate environments. Unified Messaging is coming of age on the Internet.
A handful of Internet-based companies are already offering Internet Unified Messaging services, and more are in the planning stage. These new messaging services are making their products available to each and every Internet-aware individual and business, nationwide and internationally. These services link telephone, voicemail, email, and fax, and make all of these message types accessible through the subscriber’s Web browser, email system, personal computer, personal digital assistant, or telephone.
What Is Internet Unified Messaging Service? Here is how Jfax.Com and Onebox.Com, two current service providers, explain their Internet Unified Messaging services on their respective websites:
“It’s a complete solution for managing your communications, anywhere in the world. Internet Unified Messaging brings all of your voice messages, faxes and email to a single place, your e mail in-box. Once there, you can manage them by computer OR by telephone. Log on-line to check your voice, fax or email. Or call a toll-free number to receive and reply to your emails and voice mails, and to hear about the faxes waiting for you.”
“Internet Unified Messaging voice mail gives you capabilities you can’t get from today’s voice mail systems. You can share voice mails and faxes with anyone on the Internet. You can save important voicemails like you save emails. You get convenient access to voice mail messages anywhere in the world from any phone or Internet browser. You can check voice mail over the Internet and avoid long distance charges when you are out of town.”
The Subscription Process: When you sign up for service, the Internet Unified Message provider assigns you a personal phone number in the city of your choice. You distribute this number to friends and business contacts as your fax and voice mail number. When a fax or voice message arrives, it is converted into an email message and immediately sent to your email in-box. If you’re at your computer, you simply click to view your faxes or listen to your voice mail messages. If you’re away from your computer, you dial a toll-free number to check your voice, fax and email.
Will It Succeed? Jfax.Com, in it’s recent initial Public Offering filing, defined itself as an Internet-based messaging and communications service provider to individuals and businesses throughout the world. They cited over 27,000 paid subscribers, services in over 60 area codes, and in 21 of the 25 most populous metropolitan areas, internationally. These numbers become impressive when you consider they represent subscriber and service statistics for only one Internet Unified Message provider, and for a relatively new business.
Jfax.com, like the other service providers, offers a mix of free and paid subscription services. Early providers are either partnering with other premier websites, like Yahoo and ZD Net, as away to attract subscribers, or making their services available to Internet companies wishing to market service under their “own” brand name. There is no doubt that over time Internet Unified Messaging will be used by millions of subscribers. And, as user lists grow, there are bound to be repercussions in the halls of fax and voicemail system manufacturers and service providers as an individual’s PC becomes their communications nucleus.
When Might This Trend Affect Your Business? If one of your clients has called and asked if you could deliver messages to their email address; it already has! What that client was looking for was a convenient way to pick up all their messages, by placing one call to their Internet Service Provider. It is a way to view all their messages in one place, in a common format, for easy sorting, discarding, and filing.
It’s too early to tell how Internet Unified Messaging will affect the live-answer messaging industry. While the long-term affect might be negative, it could also represent new live-answer service opportunities. Whatever the case, it’s important to do some home work right now. Learn all you can about Internet Unified Messaging. All the information you need is readily available on the Internet. Plan your business response to this budding competition.
Check out the following websites: www.efax.com, free (and fee) fax message services; www.jfax.com, free (and fee) fax, voice, email, unified message services; www.ureach.com, free (and fee) fax, voice, email unified message services.
Be prepared to react to a customer (or prospect) request for unified-type messaging services. Perhaps you’ll be able to partner with an Internet Unified Message Service provider. Or, steer the client to a “free” on-line service that will satisfy his requirement, without losing his live-answer business. Subscribe to one or more of the services to learn their strong and weak points. While they are, to some extent, your competition, they will be happy to have you as a customer.
Want to offer your customers email message delivery, Right Now!, without spending a dime on equipment or software? Find out how by faxing your name and return fax number to us at: 508-462-8921 (our free e-Fax service number). We’ll fax you the answer.
[From Connection Magazine – September 1999]