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UC Berkeley upgrades voice

By , Network World
April 03, 2006 12:06 AM ET

Network World - 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."

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