Once IP telephony is installed and employees reach a comfort level, IT and business managers typically find new and creative ways to use it.Patient scheduling, accounting: Several healthcare companies are developing\u00a0XML\u00a0applications that integrate patient scheduling with the IP phone system. When patients call in, their caller ID or entered home phone number automatically will bring up information such as preferred physician, length of visit, notes about the timing of the last visit and the global practice schedule to set the appointment.The Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology is taking that one step further with an XML application for accounting. "If I call up and want to talk about my bill, I'm not in a good mood anyway," says network administrator Pete Carroll. "So if my information is up on the screen when I call, I get off the phone more quickly and I'm happier." He estimates that having the information available at the start of the call would shave 2 to 3 minutes off of each billing call. "That improves employee productivity, which increases patient satisfaction," he adds.Appointment reminders: The applications bring up the next day's schedule on the IP phone. A clerk can click on the customer's name, the IP phone automatically dials the number, and he reminds the customer of the appointment. A few healthcare and automotive companies are exploring automating the process with autodial combined with recorded, dynamic messages.Improved customer interaction: Several resorts and hotels are exploring IP telephony as a good way to communicate with guests. With IP phones in the rooms, the resorts can display messages about amenities. An IT executive for a major resort company admits that applications to support such requirements are few and far between. "But many are working on them," he says. "That's a driver for resort business." He envisions a click-to-dial feature that lets interested guests pick up the phone and connect to a restaurant to take advantage of the evening's special.Improved staff efficiency: Several major retailers are installing IP phones at checkout areas. If a customer wants a clerk to check a different store for a different size on a busy Saturday afternoon, chances are slim that he'll get a quick response from the other store. With IP hardphones and an XML application, one store can access the inventory database and check if the other store has the correct size.Remote employee support: Temporary call-center facilities are popping up in people's homes when companies need to expand their staffs but don't have the physical space to do so.Of course, IP telephony isn't required for any of these applications. Combinations of custom software, middleware, carrier Centrex services or Advanced Intelligent Network information can result in similar solutions. But clearly, IT executives see the future of IP telephony as one of growth when compared with traditional PBXs. "The arcane features and functionality of our existing system was limiting our productivity," says the CTO of a healthcare company. Back to feature: "VoIP by the numbers"