Computer Telephony

One of the most promising trends taking root in the computer industry is the integration of the desktop computer and the telephone. Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) melds live phone calls, voice mail, e-mail, and computer databases for maximum productivity at the user's desktop.

The difference between CTI and a normal office phone system is that CTI uses a standard PC to run the phone system. Since all features of the phone system are provided via software, most CTI phone systems include every available feature, including all the features that are optional with conventional phone systems. As a bonus, all the features will be provided for a cost comparable to a plain, stand-alone PBX. CTI typically uses inexpensive analog phones, so modems will be able to plug directly into the phone system.

Since CTI systems are based on software, they can provide features not available with conventional systems. For example, incoming calls are identified using Caller ID, and the appropriate record can automatically appear in a contact manager such as Act! or GoldMine. Incoming voice mail messages can be automatically converted to sound files and e-mailed to users.

Users can individually manage incoming calls and voice mail through an optional easy-to-use graphical interface, or via voice prompts. CTI provides for call screening and for routing calls to multiple remote locations. Callers can be given an unique extension to dial for custom call handling. Conferencing is handled via the same graphical interface. Another consideration for users with older phone systems is that many existing voice mail systems are reportedly not year-2000 compatible, unlike the newer CTI software.

December 1998

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