Imagine a 77-bed county hospital with more than 400 employees and 88 doctors but no email or voicemail capabilities. With only a few answering machines and an over-taxed telephone system, Walton Medical Center in Monroe, Georgia, knew they needed help. Early in 2000, the center's CIO, Bob Clifton, began to look for alternatives.

Clifton found that the price of adding a voicemail package to Walton's existing telephone system was higher than he expected. However, the medical center was also looking for an email system, and Microsoft Exchange was a possibility. By February, he found that Intersis's Voice for Microsoft Exchange (VoiXX) 2.5 provided an interesting alternative for about half the cost of adding voicemail alone. "The voicemail opportunity came up about the same time, and it used Exchange," says Clifton. "That basically tipped things in favor of Exchange for our email platform."

Last spring, the medical center implemented a unified messaging system that lets users access email and voicemail from a common mailbox. (The center might add fax capabilities later.) In addition to VoiXX and Exchange Server 5.5, the unified system consists of four Windows NT Server systems, Microsoft Outlook 2000 Client, and three Brooktrout Technology cards for analog-to-digital speech conversion.

As a messaging platform, Exchange also includes the tools necessary to create collaborative applications. The platform offers high performance, high availability, scalability, reliability, and security. Exchange also lets users choose the protocols and clients they want to use to build collaborative applications.

With VoiXX, users can send and receive voice or email messages in their Exchange/Outlook accounts or on the telephone. When users receive email or voicemail in their inboxes, VoiXX automatically calls the appropriate user and plays the message or reads it using natural text-to-speech technology. Users reply in their own voice, and VoiXX sends the voice reply to the original sender via email.

With no existing systems to integrate into the unified messaging system, Walton Medical Center's implementation process went smoothly. "We had chosen to go with the 2.5 beta software to see all the new features," said Clifton. "The Intersis \[Value Added Reseller\] VAR came out and installed everything for us. We supplied the server, and they supplied the installation expertise to get it up and going."

The center can implement the system for employees with phone access by giving them an Exchange mailbox as a global user. "VoiXX has substantially improved communication processes throughout our organization," said Ron Campbell, Walton Medical Center's administrator and CEO. "The system has been invaluable to me," said Adrienne Wade, public relations director. "Customers are now able to communicate with my department 24 hours a day. It has increased our access to the public we serve."

Walton Medical Center is realizing the system's benefits with increased efficiency for management and key personnel. "We're taking our time to make sure we have all the departmental auto attendants up and running before we get the main switchboard auto attendant up," said Clifton. That's where Clifton expects to see the greatest savings—streamlining manual telephone answering. An internal study at the medical center showed that 88 percent of incoming telephone callers know whom they need to talk with. When the main switchboard auto attendant is running, it will route those calls automatically, relieving the receptionist’s load and handling more callers more quickly.