UC Berkeley upgrades voice

After a lengthy review process, the university chose Interactive Intelligence and licensed its Communite unified communications software last year.

University of California, Berkeley, eked all it could from its legacy voice mail system - and then some.

Even after Unisys dropped support in 2001 for the university's Digital Sound voice mail system, it located a third-party vendor willing to keep the system alive with components found on eBay and salvaged from other retired systems. "They weren't making any new parts or upgrading the operating system. It was a very closed system," says Terri Kouba, a systems developer in UC Berkeley's communications and network services department. "But it was maintained."

The university knew the fix was temporary and started looking for a replacement to provide basic voice mail functionality and unified messaging. None of the available unified messaging products won them over. "The industry really wasn't ready for a system of our scale at that point," Kouba says.

UC Berkeley gave it another shot in 2004 and found the vendors were better equipped to handle a rollout to tens of thousands of users. After a lengthy review process, the university chose Interactive Intelligence and licensed its Communité unified communications software last year.

Communité supports a unified in-box so users can browse and open e-mail, voice mail and fax messages from a single interface. The system also lets users retrieve voice, fax and e-mail messages from multiple devices, including desktop PCs, wireless handhelds or cell phones.

Unified messaging helps break down some of the walls between voice mail and e-mail and connects the message streams, Kouba says. In the past, people tended to reply to voice mails with another voice call and to e-mails with another e-mail message. "Now, if someone sends me an e-mail and I'm listening to my e-mail over the telephone, I can reply to that with a voice mail attachment," Kouba says. The sender gets back the original e-mail message with a small .wav attachment. "No matter how you send me information, I can reply or communicate in the way that I want to."

Call-screening features tell users who's calling before a call is accepted, and follow-me/find-me technology lets users set precise call-handling rules - specifying, for example, which callers to send to voice mail and which to forward to certain alternative numbers. Users also can opt to be alerted by Short Message Service if parties leave a voice mail message.

Into production

UC Berkeley started its implementation last October with a pilot group. To drum up interest in the new technology, the IT group asked for volunteers from different campus departments. Getting volunteers excited about the new system - and talking it up to their co-workers - was one of the smartest things the university did, Kouba says.

The pilot allowed Kouba's group to test the application under real-world conditions. "One of the things that we can't do very well on the telephony side in a development or test environment is test-load," Kouba says. "It's hard to generate real-looking calls. So that's one of the things that we focused on during the early-adopter period."

Kouba also used the pilot to tune the integration points between the Interactive Intelligence software and the university's existing systems. UC Berkeley didn't upgrade its telephony systems for the rollout, but it did do some heavy integration: The Communité software is tied to the university's Centrex service, Nortel PBX gear, CommuniGate Systems e-mail, iPlanet Lightweight Directory Access Protocol directory, Kerberos security system and campus storage-area network.

After the pilot, in January the team moved the remainder of the university's 10,000 faculty and administrative staff from the old voice mail system to the Communité platform.

Because not every user needs all the available features, the communications group offers different classes of service, starting with basic voice mail and traditional telephone-only message access. Enhanced voice mail services let users access messages via the Web, and unified messaging services add the option to retrieve messages via e-mail. Add-ons include call screening, call routing, and incoming and outgoing faxing options.

The communications group makes these services available to university departments on a chargeback basis, so department managers can stretch their budgets by choosing services for staff judiciously.

This fall, UC Berkeley plans to offer the new services to residence hall students, which could increase its implementation to 50,000 users.

In the past, as many as three students in a dorm room had to share a single phone line. With Communité, every student can get a personal phone number, and each can opt to route calls to the dorm-room phone, a cell phone or any other phone. "Somebody can always call that one campus phone number and ultimately reach the student," Kouba says.

Attracting student users is important. Providing dorm-room telephone service is a moneymaker for UC Berkeley, which, like many universities, has seen its revenue drop as students increasingly favored cell phones over dorm lines. By offering unified messaging options such as advanced call-forwarding features and Web-based message retrieval, the university hopes to regain some of those customers.

The University of California, Berkeley, traded its aged voice mail system for a unified messaging platform from Interactive Intelligence that lets users streamline handling of voice, e-mail and fax messages.

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