Lucent's Octel for Microsoft Exchange

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Lucent's Octel for Microsoft Exchange
P.Hayes - December 3rd, 1999

Product Background

Lucent Technologies Octel Unified Messenger allows a user, residing on a Microsoft Exchange Server, to access voice mail, e-mail and fax through a single interface. A user can either retrieve his/her messages from a standard touch-tone telephone, or from multi-media enhanced laptops or workstations. The unified messenger uses a text-to-speech conversion engine for transmitting e-mails over a telephone line; the system will also notify the user if an attachment is contained within the e-mail. Retrieving faxes via a telephone line is different. The user must forward the fax directly to a machine where the user can manually retrieve a copy. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology needs to improve to the point that faxes are accurately processed for export to the text-to-speech engine.

The product is especially valuable to remote users who do not always have Internet and/or computer access. This is especially true when traveling internationally or in remote rural regions. Although the technology is not perfect, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Lucent's first release of the Octel Messaging Server (1993), was generally considered useful, but too expensive and the technology too immature.

The Unified Messenger is a step towards the "universal inbox" arena, but will require additional enhancements to achieve a well-rounded product. The main competing unified messaging product is produced by MaiSoft and is called the " MaiSoft Unified Messaging System". The core technology behind the product is from Lucent and looks very much like the Octel Messaging Server environment. Through a strategic alliance with MaiSoft, Lucent is effectively monopolizing the voice-mail, fax and PBX e-mail integration market.

Product Strategy and Trajectory

Lucent is looking into the future with the Unified Messenger Product and MaiSoft's Unified Messaging System. The product is presently only supported with the Microsoft Exchange Server messaging system due to development costs. Over the next 2-5 years, Lucent will release a Unified Messenger for Lotus Notes and the leading flavors of Linux and Unix (probability 95%). Lucent will also improve the OCR engine, by partnering with an OCR company such as Xerox in order to provide accurate porting of facsimile and attachment data to the text-to-speech engine (probability 95%).

Product Strengths

Lucent's Unified Messenger product is useful for any remote user that needs a robust connection to the corporat infrastructure. The ability to have a user's inbox available from anywhere at any time is appealing to all levels of the corporate organization, due to increased remote end-user production. The product integrates well with Microsoft Exchange under the Windows NT Server platform and offers support for a wide-array of PBX systems. Lucent has also stated that it will provide integration services for those PBXs not currently supported.

Product Challenges

Lucent's Unified Messenger product challenges include limited platform support (NT/Exchange Only) and sheer expense, especially hardware expenditure. A PBX telephone system is a prerequisite to installation, in addition to a dedicated and robust Messaging Server. Disk storage will grow at exponential rates, given that a one-minute voice-mail message will take up 240 times more disk storage space than a one-page e-mail. Lucent Octel's clients are not implementing the Unified Inbox on a corporate wide level, but for specific departments comprised mainly of remote users in order to reduce implementation costs. Lucent must develop a compression method to improve on the 240K per minute storage requirements.

Vendor Recommendations

Lucent should collaborate with a well-known third party fax application server such as RightFax or Optus FacSys to bolster faxing ability. Octel needs an OCR engine that will convert faxes to speech, so that an end user does not have to re-direct the fax to a potentially unsecured environment. The cost of the product must be driven down to offset the hardware and implementation expenses. At the present time, the cost of the solution is the one major roadblock which Lucent must overcome. If OCR, compression and facsimile capabilities can be improved and Lucent can keep the product price competitive, the product will lead the way into the Unified Mailbox field.

User Recommendations

Users should be hesitant in acquiring this technology, not because of poor functionality, but due to cost constraints. If your organization consists of a majority of traveling sales users who require frequent access to e-mail, consider a limited implementation. The product is solid and functions as advertised. The text-to-speech voice engine is computerized and can be difficult to understand, particularly when connected via a cellular telephone, which may render the application virtually useless. We recommend waiting 12 months until the technology catches up with the marketing hype. While this is the messaging wave of the future, it is a bit too futuristic today.

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