Create a large-business telephone presence for your company

Artisoft's TeleVantage 2.0 is a multifeatured telephone system that runs on Windows NT. Suitable for small businesses, TeleVantage can support as many as 48 trunk lines (i.e., lines that provide connections to the Public Switched Telephone Network—PSTN) and as many as 144 standard-analog internal telephone extensions. The software's comprehensive system administration program, TeleVantage Administrator, lets you configure system trunk lines and set up new user accounts quickly.

TeleVantage has two components: server software and client software. The server software provides the features you control using your telephone. The client software, which you pay for separately, adds features you use with the server software. Installing the server software creates an install point for the client software, but you can't use the client software until you pay for it and receive a license key.

TeleVantage's server software provides the features you need to give your small business the same telephone presence that larger businesses have. TeleVantage's client software distinguishes the product from other telephone systems. When you configure your incoming lines with caller ID support, you can determine how to handle calls from specific people. For example, you can send some callers directly to voicemail and forward other callers to an administrative assistant.

TeleVantage's installation guide and administrator's guide are helpful. The 93-page installation guide provides step-by-step instructions for completing the hardware and software installations. The administrator's guide, which covers complex topics related to system configuration, is equally easy to use.

To create the interface to the telephones on your system, you use one of Dialogic's Business Communications Platform (BCP) hardware kits. The kit I used contained two full-length ISA cards (or boards)—the D/SC Voice Series board and the MSI/SC Analog Station board. The D/SC Voice Series board connected the trunk lines and performed voice processing. The MSI/SC Analog Station board connected the internal telephone extensions. (For more information about these boards, see the sidebar "Dialogic Business Communications Platform Boards," page 176.) Because these boards are full-length ISA cards, you need to make sure the server computer's motherboard doesn't contain components (e.g., a CPU heat sink) that prevent you from using the ISA slot for full-length cards. A cable connects the Dialogic boards to the external connection panel, which provides the RJ11 (i.e., standard modular telephone jack) trunk line and internal extension connections.

Installation
The installation process is simple. When I installed the Dialogic boards, I took Artisoft's recommendation and assigned numbers to the boards starting with zero. I also checked for unused IRQs. Artisoft's recommended memory and segment addresses worked, and the installation proceeded with no surprises. TeleVantage uses Microsoft SQL Server 6.5 to store configuration information, and TeleVantage includes a licensed copy of SQL Server that users can use only with the software. This copy of SQL Server installs automatically.

Artisoft recommends a minimum CPU size based on the number of trunks and extensions you want to support. A 166MHz Pentium system can support as many as 4 trunks and 8 extensions. A 300MHz Pentium II system with 3 ISA slots can support as many as 24 trunks and 48 extensions. A fully configured system containing 48 trunks and 144 extensions requires 7 ISA slots.

TeleVantage supports only uniprocessor configurations, so make sure you don't install the software on a multiprocessor computer. (Artisoft expects to release a version with multiprocessor support in 1999.) The software also supports the Message waiting light that some telephones have.

Server Software Features
TeleVantage's voicemail features and many of its call-management features are available through the system's voice-guided interface. The personalized call-handling feature lets you customize greetings and route and screen calls. The custom call-handling feature lets you give priority to calls using caller ID (if it's available) or a PIN you provide. The caller ID feature lets you call back anyone who leaves a message, as long as the person's number is accessible.

TeleVantage's dial-by-last-name feature lets you call coworkers connected to the TeleVantage system. To use this feature, dial 411 and enter the first few characters of the coworker's last name. When you are on a call, you can press the Flash button to place the call on hold. You then receive a set of prompts to transfer the call to an extension or to voicemail, start a new call, or hold a conference call.

Client Software Features
The client software's standard Windows GUI enhances telephone call and voicemail message management. The client software includes the following features.

Call screening. Whether or not you are on the telephone when a new call comes in, the call-screening feature lets you place the incoming call on hold, send the call to voicemail, or listen as the caller records a message (with the option to reconnect to the call). You can also activate the feature's optional Say your name prompt, which callers use when the software can't identify them via caller ID or a PIN.

Voicemail. The voicemail feature lets you view your voicemail messages and use your telephone or your computer's speaker to listen to new messages (without having to wade through other stored messages). The software stores caller ID information with the message so you can return calls without having to look up a telephone number. You can initiate outgoing calls from the TeleVantage telephone directory the same way. You also can share voicemail boxes with other users or groups. (I'd like to see the TeleVantage 2.1 enhancement that lets you use the software, with Microsoft Exchange Server, to call a telephone number contained in a Contacts folder.)

Email integration. TeleVantage's email-integration feature notifies you via email when voice messages arrive. This feature can send the voicemail message as an email attachment so that your related voicemail and email messages are in the same location. You can file important voicemail messages relating to current projects with email messages and notes, and review these messages from a common interface.

Follow-me call routing. You can define a call-forwarding path so that callers can reach you at internal extensions and external locations. When you use this feature with the custom call-handling feature, you have a powerful tool to help manage telephone interruptions.

Group call distribution. TeleVantage's group call distribution feature routes calls to the next available agent in a call center. Setting up this feature isn't difficult, but it involves several steps. First, you use the TeleVantage Administrator to assign an extension number (but no physical station ID) to a group. When a caller dials the telephone number for this group, the call goes to a routing list that contains the phone numbers for people in the group. Several users can log on simultaneously and see a list of all the calls that have come in to the group. Users can answer incoming calls even if their telephone number isn't on the routing list.

System Configuration Features
TeleVantage's system configuration features include least-cost routing and an auto attendant function. The software's least-cost routing feature uses TeleVantage's CallManage service to track long-distance carrier rates and automatically calculate the cost to use each carrier (taking into account the time of day the user makes the call and the call's destination). TeleVantage then connects you to the least-expensive carrier.

TeleVantage supports multiple auto attendants so that each group of incoming telephone lines can have a separate auto attendant. You can create each auto attendant with established hours of operation and after-hours or holiday greetings.

Creating the auto attendant is easy. Each auto attendant menu can have as many as 12 options (i.e., one for each key on a standard telephone keypad). Screen 1, page 174, shows the Administrator's Users screen, which contains the Auto Attendant dialog box and the Edit Menu Choice dialog box. You can choose from the following options on the Menu Choices tab: transfer to a user, send to a user's voicemail, play a message, user logon, dial by last name, or jump to another auto attendant menu. Options to disconnect and transfer back to the previous menu also would be useful. However, TeleVantage isn't a full interactive voice response/automatic call distribution (IVR/ACD) system.

TeleVantage supplies a variety of prerecorded phrases you can use as system prompts, but the software doesn't provide a way to combine these prompts and use them in customized auto attendants. Recording system prompts for each menu choice option is easy, however. You key in the text for your prompt, then record the prompt on your telephone. The software didn't let me key in all the prompts I planned to use before it recorded them. This glitch makes it difficult for one person to plan the auto attendant and for another person to record the prompts. For a fee, a professional voice-recording company that Artisoft uses will record your system prompts in one of two standard voices (i.e., British male or American female).

Moves, Adds, and Other Changes
Accommodating people who move to new offices and adding new users to the TeleVantage system is simple. Each port on the Dialogic MSI/SC Analog Station board has a predefined station ID. When a user changes offices, you just change the user's station ID to the one associated with the new office. The software supports office sharing: When you assign multiple users with separate telephone numbers to one station ID, each user selects a distinct ring. Other users then know who an incoming call is for.

TeleVantage has limited built-in fault tolerance. If the server fails, TeleVantage automatically connects incoming trunk lines to specific telephones so that some incoming and outgoing calls can continue. However, you'd be wise to configure your TeleVantage server with a UPS to protect your system from power failures and to ensure that the telephone system continues to operate when a power failure occurs.

Good for Small Businesses
I recommend TeleVantage for small businesses. A well-designed implementation of TeleVantage can go a long way toward creating a large-business telephone presence for a small company.

TeleVantage 2.0
Contact: Artisoft * 617-354-0600 or 800-914-9985
Web: http://www.artisoft.com
Price: $750 for server software; $115 for client software
System Requirements: 166MHz Pentium processor or better, Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3, 64MB of RAM, 2GB of hard disk space, Dialogic Business Communications Platform hardware kit