A startup company called Adomo is launching a new product this week: Adomo Voice Messaging for Exchange (AVME). The company briefed me about the product a month or so ago, and I've been eagerly waiting for Adomo to lift its embargo so I can talk about AVME.
Adomo has endeavored to build a comprehensive unified messaging (UM) solution that uses Microsoft Exchange Server not just as a message store (as Cisco System's Cisco Unity does) but also as the communications backbone. I think Adomo is on the right track by taking what I privately call the CommVault approach: Adomo is leveraging Exchange as much as possible instead of building a product first, then trying to make it work with multiple back-end systems. The company has clearly realized that the Exchange platform has a lot of capabilities and is using them to distinguish its product from legacy PBX-based voicemail systems. The Adomo system has three components: - an appliance that interfaces with the PBX system - an Exchange connector - an autoattendant that accepts and routes calls
The appliance, a standard rack-mountable box, handles up to 36 sessions (ports) from the PBX system. If you need more than 36 ports, you can chain appliances. Adomo's literature shows smaller 12- and 24-port appliances being used in remote offices (although I'm not sure whether you can upgrade the smaller versions to the 36-port version). Adomo claims that one 36-port appliance is large enough to serve 1800 to 3600 users, depending on use (the product is designed for organizations with more than 500 users). The appliance uses the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) codec to compress incoming messages; you can listen to messages on pretty much any audio-enabled Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux machine. The GSM codec is ubiquitous, unlike Cisco's Algebraic Code Excited Linear Prediction (ACELP) codec. The action takes place in the Exchange connector, which directs incoming messages to the user's mailbox, where they appear as typical email messages. This important function lets you deploy the solution without making desktop changes; AVME has no required plug-ins or Microsoft Office Outlook bits to add, and voicemail attachments are available for any application or device that can handle email attachments and play audio, including Outlook Web Access (OWA) and Windows Mobile devices. AVME delivers messages via an Exchange form that includes buttons that let you play your voicemail on your phone, call the sender, and take other appropriate actions. Adomo has promised tighter integration with Outlook in future versions, but the existing integration is already pretty good. You can use a standard phone to retrieve your messages the way you do with a legacy voicemail system, and Adomo has a text-to-speech system (which I haven't tested) that uses a conventional phone to retrieve Calendar, Contacts, and message data.
From a deployment standpoint, one of Adomo's big selling points is that you don't have to touch Active Directory (AD) or your Exchange server to implement AVME. You need only one connector per Exchange organization, and the connector doesn't have to be on an Exchange server. No AD schema changes are required. You provision user accounts by specifying the associated phone numbers as voicemail-capable; you don't need a separate user-management tool. Adomo doesn't say which AD attributes AVME uses, but the literature claims that you can use the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) AD Users and Computers snap-in or a script to perform all the provisioning tasks.
Messages appear with Caller ID data, and the connector matches the data with the user's Contacts folder so that messages appear with the correct sender information. This capability makes it easy to prioritize and handle voicemail messages (either manually or with rules) the same way you handle email messages. The connector can send Short Message Service (SMS) messages to mobile phones or alerts (including the Caller ID number in the subject line) to BlackBerry and other nonaudio devices.
When you call in to the system, the autoattendant answers and plays a recorded greeting. You can speak a name at any time, and AVME's speech-recognition system uses conflict resolution to find the name in the Global Address List (GAL); for example, it can ask you which John Smith (e.g., John Smith in sales or John Smith in engineering) to connect to based on domain, group membership, or organizational unit (OU). The attendant has access to a wealth of user-specific data, including your schedule and presence data from Microsoft Office Live Communications Server. Imagine being able to set a rule that says, "If my wife calls from her cell phone, notify me; otherwise, dump all incoming calls to voicemail." Imagine calling a contact and having the attendant tell you, "Jane's in a meeting until 3:00 P.M. Central time; do you want me to notify her that you're calling?" (based, of course, on Jane's decision to trust you with that information as a contact in her Contacts folder). The product has almost limitless possibilities for future expansion, particularly because you can use it with Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) products (including, conveniently, Live Communications Server 2005).
Given Adomo's target market, AVME won't work for everyone. First, it requires Exchange Server 2003. Second, Adomo hasn't released pricing information (at least, not to me), but because the company is targeting organizations that have at least 500 seats, AVME probably won't be cheap. (One interesting note: Adomo talks about the product's benefits for organizations that sell hosted Exchange services, which could potentially be a nice revenue sweetener for hosting companies.) In terms of functionality, AVME's nearest competitor is the Wildfire Communications' Wildfire service, which (last time I checked) cost $70 to $150 per month per user. So Adomo definitely has some maneuvering room. I don't know how much legacy voicemail systems cost, but being able to switch to managing voicemail data as part of the Exchange store is clearly appealing.
The big question is what Microsoft plans to do in this space. Live Communications Server 2005 provides an SIP transport. Microsoft's forthcoming Istanbul Instant Messaging (IM) client includes telephony integration. And the Exchange 12 roadmap that the company released last month includes plans for unified messaging. Without knowing more about what Microsoft plans to announce, predicting whether the native Exchange 12 implementation will complement or compete with Adomo's product is difficult. However, Adomo has a year or two to gain market traction, and the company will quickly do so if it has a superior product.