By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
In the March/April, issue of Connections Magazine we highlighted unified messaging systems. Essentially, unified messaging systems collect messages of various formats and origins, centrally storing them for later access through a variety of channels. Although the receiving and accumulation of messages is automatic, the retrieval is instigated at the request of the end user.
Although arguably a subset or specialty niche of unified messaging, the converse dissemination approach is where messages (or pieces of information) are automatically delivered according to a predefined method and schedule. These are called message delivery systems, or message servers.
For some vendors, the line of distinction between unified messaging systems and message servers has blurred, resulting in one system that can effectively handle both functions. The purpose of this review, however, is to address message delivery and message servers.
Message delivery systems offer a variety of distribution methods. Fax is the most common, with email rapidly gaining in popularity. Other methods may include alpha paging, email wave files of voice mail messages, automated voice delivery to a phone number, and text-to-voice conversion to voice mail.
Past methods, although becoming obsolete, are iXO printers, dial-up computer access, and computer bulletin boards. The source of all these messages comes from a call center’s messaging or order-taking system.
Two flexible and powerful external stand-alone systems are Amtelco’s UltraComm and Professional Teledata’s venerable FMDS II series; both are robust and impressive message servers. Even without a message server, most, if not all, currently available messaging and order-taking platforms have some rudimentary internal software for basic message delivery.
Alpha paging is most common, with fax or email available with some platforms. CadCom’s AccuCall is a notable example. An entirely different approach and result is found in BASIC, from Professional Teledata; it provides the ability to send message information and call data to a website.
Message Servers: A message server is a stand-alone system that connects to a call center’s messaging or order-taking platform and automatically delivers messages in a variety of methods. The benefits of message servers are that as a separate system, they are generally able to handle greater traffic demands and are more easily expandable. Also, since they are an external system, upgrades and replacement can occur with the main system without a need to replace the message server or reprogram information.
FMDS IIis the product that defined message delivery systems, and revolutionized message dispatch. It is a true multi-tasking delivery system that integrates with call center equipment and LANs. FMDS II delivers messages, orders, and surveys, via any combination of fax, email, or alphanumeric paging. In addition to basic message delivery, FMDS II includes fax broadcast services and fax ‘advertising’ capabilities.
Basic FMDS II operation involves forwarding call center messages to customers’ fax machines. Messages are sent as they are received or scheduled for delivery at one or more times during the day. Facilities exist to combine messages for related accounts into one fax, reducing telephone charges and saving the customer wasted fax paper.
Customized cover sheets can be developed and advertising messages can be included on the “trailer” at the end of each fax. With the “voice prompted check-in” option, the end user can call FMDS from a fax machine anywhere in the world to retrieve their messages.
UltraComm consists of a somewhat specialized PC server chassis, Microsoft Windows NT or 2000 operating system, and hardware and software for specific message dispatch applications. UltraComm is most commonly thought of as a fax server. For fax services it supports twelve or more fax ports and has software for outbound fax message delivery, fax message pickup, and fax store and forward. It is also capable of performing outbound fax broadcasts.
Additionally, UltraComm supports email message transmission and supports the ability to pick up a client’s messages from POP-3 email accounts, delivering it as email, fax, or voice (using text to voice conversion). A new capability is the ability to add text-to-speech to deliver a client’s messages in an audio form upon check-in. Retrieved email messages can also be read to the client.
UltraComm has a Microsoft Access based reporting package that can be tied in with Infinity billing stats. Recently added network integration, allows UltraComm to apprise the host Infinity system of the status of message delivery.
Amtelco can be contacted at 800-356-9148.
Message Server Overview
|Type of platform||PC based with optional LAN connection.||PC based with optional LAN connection.|
|Interface Type||Serial (iXO, X-Modem, TAP) or network (flexible format)||Serial (iXO) or network.|
|Confirmation to host||Available for hosts that support confirmation.||Available on v4.1|
|Current interfaces||Infinity, EVE, PC-MX, Startel (all models), TASCOM, Telescan, Axon, Glenayre, PI-2000, DLS, B/CS.||Infinity, EVE, PC-MX, and any other messaging system that supports iXO protocol.|
|Minimum/Max ports||Standard product supports 1 or 2 fax ports, more ports available on RFQ basis.||1 to 12 ports (24 possible with expanded platform).|
|Current software version||4.52||4.1|
|Installation method||User installed with phone support.||Vendor installed and trained.|
|Types of message delivery options||Fax, email, alpha paging.||Fax, email, and text-to-speech.|
Message Delivery Software: Message delivery software is an internal solution that is part of messaging or order-taking software. It also transmits messages in a variety of formats and methods. There are two benefits of message delivery software. One is that as an integral part of a primary platform, there is single vendor support. This saves time and money, as well as reducing frustration over resolving integration issues. The other advantage is that because it is internal, a separate computer does not need to be purchased, installed, and maintained. The downside is that message delivery software is so specialized and integrated into its host system that it can only work with its parent platform and cannot be used with other messaging or order-taking systems.
AccuCall: CadCom’s flagship product, AccuCall has a strong internal messaging software package. (CadCom had previously used a message server, ComMaster, with their LineMaster series. ComMaster is still available, however, the focus is on AccuCall, with its internal message delivery software.)
Messages taken in AccuCall can be delivered to a fax machine, email address, or alpha pager using the Dispatch Service module, which is a standard AccuCall feature. Both immediate and timed dispatches can be handled.
Dispatch information is relayed to a real time reader board for traffic management. Utilizing Flex Ports that can pass both alpha and fax digits, AccuCall allows users to avoid having to purchase multiple, dedicated dispatch ports. Flex ports automatically survey lines and determine the biggest need based on current dispatch traffic. The dispatch server’s reporting features allows managers to track date and time, message status, type of message, account and page number, the agent who sent the message, and the message destination.
CadCom can be contacted at 800-537-1827 or visit their website at www.onvisource.com.
PI 2000: Professional Teledata has steadily added the message delivery options to its PI 2000 system. The most recent development is POWER: PI Online Web Exporting & Reporting. It is Professional Teledata’s latest Web based product. POWER enhances the delivery and access to call center data taken on the PI 2000 System. POWER gives end users secure access to all of their data via the Web. The features include the ability to select, sort, and create custom reports and extracts. POWER is secured by a 128-bit SSL connection and the call centers’ end users have individual security access to their data and reports.
POWER runs as a stand-alone system under Microsoft’s IIS or as an ASP (Application Service Provider) provided by Professional Teledata, where the end users’ data is automatically transferred to the host servers at PI. POWER can be integrated into the call center’s Web page, and customized to blend in uniformly.
[Connections wishes to thank Jim Esser (Amtelco), Justin Turnbow (CadCom), Alan Hartmann (Professional Teledata), and Jim Graham (Professional Teledata) for providing system information for this article. Information from other vendors who may have message servers or message delivery software was unavailable at press time. To find out about other options, contact your messaging or order-taking vendor directly.]
[From Connection Magazine – May/June 2002]