Repartee flies with Air Force

"With downsizing and loss of personnel, we decided we needed something to handle
the voice mail and manage telephone services," Eglin telecommu-nications director
Phil Block said.


He settled on Repartee from Active Voice Corp. of Seattle, which supplied telephone
answering and voice mail. "It was very elementary," Block said, but at the time
"it was leading-edge."


Today, Eglin's 850 users are still at the leading edge with a suite of Active Voice
Telanophy products. Telanophy integrates voice mail and fax messaging with e-mail
groupware on the base's Novell NetWare LAN.


"On the same screen, you see your voice-mail messages stacked up with your
e-mail," Block said.


Voice mail is as easy to manage as e-mail. Security has improved, too, because
confidential faxes get routed directly to PCs with password protection.


"We're very far out ahead of the curve" on computer-telephone integration,
Block said. "We've become a consulting source. We've worked on the leading edge of
everything Active Voice has produced before it came onto the market."


Eglin users took to computer-telephone integration readily because of the base's
mission. As a center for missile development, it employs many engineers who travel,
receive many faxes and need to stay in touch with their messages. Faxes, though not
secret, require some form of security.


Despite Block's enthusiasm, the concept of handling voice and electronic messages in a
single digital system has been slow to catch on, said Frank J. Costa, Active Voice
president and chief operating officer.


"Four years ago, desktop telephony applications were just getting started,"
Costa said. "It's only now that about half of our [Repartee] systems go out the door
with Telanophy."


He said it might be as long as five years before Repartee routinely ships with
Telanophy modules for integration on LANs.


Repartee answers calls, plays audio text and transfers calls. Eglin's introduction of
Repartee, Active Voice's flagship product, did not go easily at first, Block said.


"We found that people resisted it," he said. "They didn't like having a
machine answering the department telephone."


But users soon grew to like the reliability and convenience of a 24-hour system from
which to retrieve voice messages anywhere in the world. "People began using their
phones like a personal secretary," Block said.


Within a year after that, Active Voice began releasing its Telanophy modules. The
ViewMail module, introduced in 1992, had a Microsoft Windows interface that gave users a
list of voice-mail messages on their monitors.


They could play back, rewind, speed up, slow down, forward or delete the messages with
point-and-click commands.


The ViewFax module soon after provided the same capabilities for fax documents, and
ViewCall let users monitor incoming telephone calls from their desktop displays.


The next step was to replace Telanophy's separate ViewMail window with an integrated
e-mail window. Last February, the company released ViewMail for Microsoft Messaging, which
lets users access voice mail and faxes through the Microsoft Exchange and Windows
Messaging in-boxes, using the same address books.


A version for Novell GroupWise 5.0 came out in March. Active Voice is working on a
version for Lotus Development Corp. Notes.


Telanophy server software, written in C, runs on any 100-MHz 486DX4 or faster PC. This
voice-mail server, when attached to the LAN, does not degrade LAN performance or put
additional burdens on the administrator, Block said. He described the amount of traffic
generated by Telanophy as negligible.


Although Eglin recently upgraded its LAN backbone from 10-megabit/sec Ethernet to
100-megabit/sec Fast Ethernet, Block said he "wouldn't want to give anybody the
impression that you need" the extra bandwidth to do computer telephony.


Eglin maintains a redundant voice-mail server to provide the automated attendant
service in case the LAN goes down, so users can still retrieve voice mail through their
telephones. "You can't put all your eggs in one basket," Block said. But users
are unhappy when the LAN goes down, he said. "They get used to the screen, they don't
want to use the phone."


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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