Unified Messaging (UX perspective) – COOL!!

I had a conversation with my Exchange Server last night.

Microsoft has been talking about Unified Messaging for a couple of years now, and I have been interested in it since the outset but because I do not always have the infrastructure (or the time) to do a lot of the things I would like to do, this (among myriad others) has fallen by the wayside.

My own mail domain is actually managed by an online hosting provider that has recently enabled Unified Communications… and the other day they sent me an e-mail telling me that I could now set up my voice mail to forward to their server. 

With only a few steps it was done.  I forwarded my US cell phone to the number they provided, and was off to the races.

The cool features I got to play with last night:

  • Voice Mail from my Inbox: I left myself a voice mail (at 1:30am there aren't too many other people to talk to… even the puppies were asleep).  Within seconds I received an e-mail not only telling me I had a voice message… but it allowed me to play it right from my Inbox.
  • Listen to my e-mail: I called in an after entering my secure code I was able to not only listen to my voice mail, but could navigate my Inbox and have the pleasant female voice read my e-mails to me.  I could then reply and go on to the next one.  Really cool!
  • Hear my calendar: I saw a video last year that was a take-off of The Devil Wears Prada (a movie I have not seen but I am assured the characters are spot on).  In it the Administrative Assistant uses all sorts of features that look like magic, including talking to her Calendar and telling it that she will bee ten minutes late for a meeting (the pleasant female voice then assures her that 'she' would notify all meeting attendees).  I always thought it was cool, but did not realize how easy it was to do…   I did not actually reschedule meetings, but I did get to hear how busy my day would be today.
  • All the normal Voice Mail options…: Of course I was able to change my pin, record my name, change my OGM (I opted to use the pleasant female voice rather than my own).  These are all features we expect to be able to do with voice mail… but with Exchange?

So far the only drawback I have found to the setup has nothing to do with Exchange… my server is hosted in the United States, so my (Canadian) Rogers cell phone does not seem to support forwarding calls internationally.  So while I am in Canada I will have to continue to not receive my e-mail in my Inbox… but since my bigger issue has always been that I rarely carry my US cell phone around when I am in Canada, this is a great solution to that dilemma… I use UM for that phone, and will no longer have to check my 'seventeen voice messages' every time I cross the border.

Steps I had to take:

Before I could get it working, even after I forwarded my phone to the proper number, I had to make sure that Exchange knew what phone number to accept calls from.  That was a simple matter of finding the Voice Mail tab in Outlook Properties (I actually did it using the Outlook Web Access but I suspect you can do it from the Outlook 2007 client as well). 

Once that was done I was literally off to the races.  It really was set up so that anyone could do it.  It spoke to me in plain English and asked me to do the same.  I do not know about other languages, though I suspect someone has thought of that.

My favorite Arthur C. Clarke quote is: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."  When I was a kid I used to wonder at Michael Knight (actually David Hasselhoff) speaking with his car.  It was of course science fiction, but the concept of speaking with a computer amazed me.  We have advanced to the point that while I cannot actually have an intelligent conversation like K.I.T.T., but we are certainly further along than I would have suspected twenty-five years ago… or even ten.  Unified Messaging truly does bring magic to our Inbox.

Isn't technology amazing?

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