Saturday, July 02, 2011

Musings on Telecommunications

Just a minute or two ago, I heard my work-issued BlackBerry vibrate. I figured it was another automated server message. But it kept vibrating. Must be a phone call.

I picked it up. The number was from a 702 area code. Most calls I’d get that are work related would be from 703 or 571. I answered anyway.

I couldn’t tell if the woman was a recording, or some poor telemarketing worker trying to get through the script as fast as she could. She was talking a little too fast to understand, but apparently that number had been entered in a drawing and I won something. I hung up before the script could go any farther. It couldn’t have been me. My agency doesn’t have minute plans. They pay for each minute on each BlackBerry individually. We’re allowed to use the BB for business purposes, but discouraged to use it for personal reasons. Not a problem.

I got that BB in March, and I don’t think I’ve given the number even to my wife. It’s in my email signature at work, so people can contact me for work related reasons.

Obviously, our data is “unlimited”. We can use as much data as we want. All you can eat…

But that got me to thinking about how outmoded some of our telecom practices are. Every work number I’ve had in my last two jobs was used by somebody else. I keep getting calls for the people who had the numbers before. In my last job, my company BlackBerry rang all the time with calls for other people. I have no idea how many people had that number before, but it got around. It’s too bad we can’t get the telecoms to discontinue numbers after they’re not needed anymore. When I bought my house, the number Verizon gave me previously belonged to somebody going for a Guinness record for how many collection agencies they could get to come after them. My phone rang all the time with collection agencies looking for this person. Ugh. We need a better system, something like Google Voice, where you can use one number and send the calls to multiple phones. I could give my Google Voice number to somebody and set it to ring only my desk phone at work. Or my iPhone. I once set it to ring both my work phone and personal cell. So when one call came in, both phones rang. I answered one, asked the person to hold, and answered the other, to discover it was the same call. I then took my work number out of there.

My desk phone at work gets a lot of calls for other people. That brings us to our next topic: Voicemail.

I routinely get back to my desk to find the red light on my phone lit indicating I have voicemail. 99 times out of 100, it’s a hang up. The other time is the same person saying she’s looking for another same person. Obviously, the fact that she hasn’t been able to reach that person for months and MY NAME IS ON THE VOICE MAIL MESSAGE aren’t enough of a clue for her.

It can take about a minute of my time just to clear a hang up from my voice mail. First I have to press the button for voice mail. Then I get the “Welcome to the voice messaging system. Blah, blah, blah, lots of information you already know after more than 20 years of having answering machines and voice mail systems, but we’ll just repeat it in case we get that one person who has never used voicemail before.” Then I have to press 1. Then press 1 again. Then the voice mail system tells me the phone number that called (which is pretty much meaningless) and the date and time. Then I hear the click. Then I can delete it and hang up.

So I have to wonder, why can’t I have visual voice mail on my phone? Why can’t I have a phone integrated with Microsoft Outlook? I could look up somebody in the GAL (Global Address List), click a button, and my phone dials for me? You know, like how the iPhone does things, and how BlackBerries and Windows Mobile have been doing it for years before that?

I heard we have an incoming project that sounds like an enterprise integrated communications system. I’m going to try to get that one in my portfolio. I try to take projects I’m excited about, like Windows 7. They’re all IT projects, so there’s something interesting about all of them.

So anyway, why is our office communication system still stuck in the 1980’s? Even with VOIP phones, why do we still have clunky and annoying voice mail systems?

Do you work in a place where you have some ultra-cool and efficient communications system? What do you have?

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