Assessing unified messaging

This is a great time for agency information technology strategists to evaluate unified messaging as a way to cut costs and increase productivity and application integration. Beyond evaluating the types of messaging you need to integrate and the devices you must support, you'll want to consider what software applications might benefit from unified messaging.

Ask your existing application software providers how they plan to support unified messaging and examine the current workflow at your agency. How can unified messaging improve it? Can it help you increase automation or decrease processing time — inside and outside of your department?

As you assess unified messaging solutions, there are 10 key evaluation points you can use to choose the best solution for your agency:

Security — If you are implementing a solution internally, what technology does the vendor provide to ensure the security of messaging data? If you're using an external service provider, what security measures are in place and what security policies are implemented by the provider and at what intervals?

Common/multiple interface support — Is the unified messaging solution accessible via interfaces that are reachable across multiple platforms, such as a Web browser? Are there multiple access points to interact with messages? For example, can the user send and receive multiple message types from an e-mail client and from a mobile device?

Message type support and integration — Does the solution provide support for e-mail, voice mail, faxing and paging? What other message types are supported? Extensible Markup Language? Web services? Which message types can be integrated into agency applications? What type of application integration is supported?

Scalability — Can the solution grow as the agency grows? A typical unified messaging system can accommodate up to 10,000 users. What facilities does a vendor or service provider include to help agencies that must support a greater number of distributed users?

Multiple network locations — Can the solution support local staffers as well as those who may be half a world away? Does the product or service support digital networking, including formats such as Voice Profile for Internet Mail?

Easy administration/training — How many hours will be required to set up and maintain the solution or service? What type of training will staffers need to become effective users of the solution?

Open, cross-platform standards — Does the solution require proprietary interfaces to integrate with agency applications? Will users be tied to one platform or a piece of proprietary software to use unified messaging? What industry standards is the vendor or service provider planning to support in the future?

Client- or server-based unified messaging — Does the solution enable agencies to deploy either client- or server-based unified messaging? Client solutions require multiple storage types, such as voice mail and e-mail, while server-based solutions store all message types in one repository.

Solution provider has a proven track record — Has the vendor or service provider been in the marketplace for several years? What steps are in place to preserve message data should something happen to the vendor or service provider? How interoperable are the vendor or service provider storage formats when compared with the rest of the marketplace?

Future add-on integration — How will future agency growth impact the unified messaging solution? Will the solution be able to integrate with new tools, such as call management functionality, over time?

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