Active Voice's Unity ~ In Pursuit of the Perfect Unified Messaging Solution
Robert Richmond, Robert Greco, and Christopher Schmandt founded Active
Voice in 1983 with a common goal in mind to develop software that
enables centralized electronic communication. Throughout the past seventeen
years, Active Voice has enjoyed considerable growth and success developing
Unified Messaging solutions for major collaborative messaging servers
such as Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes.
Voice has recently gained much attention in the messaging arena with "Best
of Show" awards from Microsoft and Lotus conferences, in addition to beating
out AVT Corporation, Lucent and Key Voice in a Computer Telephony test.
Active Voice's financials are more than respectable with a recent stock
price of $7.75 USD (7/6/00) and an EPS of 0.57 (USD). While we don't expect
any of the Unified Messaging vendors to monopolize the market place, we
do believe that Active Voice is well positioned to take a commanding piece
of the pie due not only to product functionality but also due to product
Strategy and Trajectory
Active Voice's Unity is a Microsoft Back Office based product that integrates
with Microsoft Exchange to enable a central point from which a user can
access and send not only e-mail, but also voice mail and facsimile. A
user can access his or her e-mail and voice mail from either a telephone
(God forbid its not a touch tone!) or the Internet when not at his or
Unified Messaging systems look and feel pretty much the same, so what,
we wondered, is that what makes Unity a better choice? We found that native
streaming media and signaling architecture supports multiple circuits
and/or IP switches simultaneously, allowing a client to migrate to IP
telephony while reducing associated costs. We also found the product to
be highly developable due to its industry standard support for XML.
one of the key points to Unity is the concept and implementation of a
'Single Directory and Single Store'. This allows for 'true' Unified Messaging
for Microsoft Exchange (Single Directory and Single Store for Lotus will
be available prior to the 4th Quarter of 2000). A single directory and
store become 'unified' with the base messaging system allowing complete
and thorough interoperability.
is based on Internet standards that allow the product to grow with the
organization as more technically advanced products are implemented. We
have already mentioned support for XML, but Unity also has support for
LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) in addition to IP telephony,
which is the direction of corporate communications looking into the next
decade. Due to Active Voice's support for IP Telephony, Cisco Systems
has selected Unity to be integrated into Cisco's CallManager application
to facilitate communication improvements while reducing hardware related
component, which we found rather nifty, was support for multiple languages,
which can also be accessed via the Internet, a touch-tone phone or the
user's desktop. Simply put, by adding support for multiple languages Active
Voice has globalized their enterprise ready product offering.
for Industry Standards: Unity supports XML, LDAP, and IP Telephony.
Directory and Single Store: Unity ties the Exchange Directory and
Store allowing complete integration.
for Multiple Circuit or IP Switches Simultaneously: Offers a tremendous
hardware cost savings to the client. There is no need to purchase additional
hardware to 'tie' your telephony system(s) together.
The Unity product scales well. The product could easily be used in an
office of less than 100 users or scale to 100,000 users with relative
Supports multiple languages and/or a mix of multiple languages.
Interface: The administrative 'console' is intuitive, easily navigable
and well thought out. Those already familiar with the Exchange Administrative
interface and standard windows Graphical User Interface (GUI) will require
and Configuration: Due to Unity's tight integration with Microsoft
Back Office, coupled with well thought out and scripted install screens
and import utilities, rollout is relatively painless. As with any rollout,
plan in stages to minimize potential problems.
Unity 2.3 in organizations with one Exchange site and multiple physical
office locations. The challenge here is that you can only deploy one
Unity 2.3 for each Exchange site, even though some organizations have
several physical locations or branch offices that are all part of (or
linked to) the same (one) Exchange site. Therefore with 2.3 only the
(one) physical Exchange site could use Unity 2.3's unified messaging
capabilities. In Unity 2.4, due for release later in July 2000, Active
Voice has overcome this challenge. Each location will have the ability
to have a Unity deployed, providing full UM functionality, even if they
are all part of the same (one) Exchange site. The number of users can
scale up to approximately 10,000 users per Exchange system. In Unity
2.4, multiple Unity servers within one Exchange site will ease enterprise
must be able to interoperate on a single directory, single store procedure
in order to achieve 'true' unified messaging for the Lotus Notes Domino
Voice must spend more revenue on promoting 'Unity' as a complete Unified
Messaging Solution in order to increase the Unity install base.
- As with
all Unified Messaging products, the text to speech recognition engine
is rather monotone, slow and not without the occasional mistake. This
technology will improve over time but more R&D dollars must be put towards
the present time Active Voice is doing a good job in development and sales,
paying strong attention to customer service. If we had one main recommendation
it would be to provide for the release of a single directory, single store
application for Lotus Domino. Furthermore Active Voice must look to the
release of Exchange Server 2000 and be certain it is 100% compliant with
the Active Directory Service (ADS). Simply put, " Nice Job so far, but
don't rest on your current laurel's."
Users have a lot of choices when it comes to Unified Messaging. The largest
three players are Lucent Technologies, Active Voice, AVT Corporation and
peripherally, Key Voice. All products have their pros and cons, but Active
Voice's commitment to industry standards coupled with strong functionality
and ease of use makes us put it on our short list of Unified Messaging
Vendors. Make certain to include Active Voice in your tests prior to implementing
any Unified Messaging product.