Word documents by phone

Marin County, Calif., supports 2,300 employees in a variety of services that take them away from their office computers and desk telephones. Attorneys, nurses, inspectors, firefighters and sheriffs all work outside the office. Yet they all need access to e-mail, voice messages, schedules and other communications. They're finding this access using ordinary telephones and an Avaya Speech Access system.

'We had already implemented a voice-recognition attendant,' said Barbara Layton, telecommunications manager for the county. The system was intended for constituents to reach the county office they need: By saying 'birth certificate,' the caller can connect to the right office. The administrators discovered that county employees were also using the system to call the offices they needed; it was simpler than looking up numbers in a directory and dialing manually.

County officials wanted to expand remote access for its mobile employees. Although they considered notebook PC solutions, they decided to avoid the expense and support requirements of notebooks. Instead, they built on the success of the voice-recognition attendant and selected a voice-oriented system.

Now employees can access voice mail using oral commands to hear, answer and delete voice messages. The system is smart enough to use caller ID to record the phone numbers of callers, so that employees can return messages without dialing. This access is possible from any phone, including cell phones.

Although accessing voice mail by phone isn't that unusual, county employees can also get to their e-mail using the phone and voice commands. The new system can read e-mail to a caller, including Word document attachments.

Employees can also book and check appointments on the county's calendaring system. The calendar can even call employees to notify them of changes that affect them. The system keeps track of where employees are scheduled to be, then routes calls to the right location.

'The system is very efficient to use,' Layton said. Users can go through e-mail rapidly, even in the time between meetings.

The response to the system has been positive. 'People find that they actually enjoy using the system, so they are more likely to use it, even from home,' he said.

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