VoIP in Unusual Places

Updated: April 30, 2009

VoIP was originally conceived of as an inexpensive way for individuals to call one another, but IP-based voice applications are increasingly turning up in business settings as well.

For example, rare is the VoIP service that doesn't offer code for putting a click-to-call button on a Web site or a customized calling URL in an email: RingCentral Inc ., Jajah , Jangl Inc . and jaxtr Inc . all allow you to keep your personal phone number(s) private while still allowing the outside world to reach you.

That's useful for individuals, but realistically, how many people who don't know your phone number or your user ID are going to call out of the blue (unless you're a popular tech blogger or subscribe to a dating service)?

But click-to-call technology is invaluable for businesses because it enables impulse purchasing. Ever notice how a rack of candy bars is always positioned next to supermarket checkout lines? Click-to-call buttons are the online equivalent. No one's making you buy the M&M's — but putting instant gratification within arm's reach definitely increases the odds of an impulse buy.

In the same vein, highly competitive VoIP services are eager to increase business adoption, so they don't charge banks, insurance companies, brokerage firms and other high-touch businesses to have as many click-to-call buttons on their sites as they want. Here are a couple of business fields in which voice has recently made inroads.

Back-Office Automation

Voice is also increasingly showing up as an important part of background business processes. In fact, pity the humble human secretary, whose traditional duties are steadily being stolen by voice-enabled automation.

This trend is evident in Russell Shaw's recent coverage of the O'Reilly Media and StrikeIron Telephony Mashup Contest, which asked contestants to create voice mashups that don't require a team of high-salaried telecom engineers.

The contest's winner, Thomas Howe of Thomas Howe Consulting, wanted to reduce costly, unnecessary emergency-room visits. Howe's After Hours Doctor's Office mashup transcribes callers' after-hours messages for doctors into text messages, then sends a text acknowledgment to the caller while quickly relaying the transcribed message to triage nurses, who assess whether the caller has an urgent problem. If so, the patient's contact information is sent to a doctor's mobile phone, enabling that doctor to return the patient's call with one click. In nonurgent cases, the caller gets a (presumably reassuring) text message telling him or her that someone will be in touch the following morning.

Although intake is probably not be the point at which to remove human mediation from health care — phone triage usually requires give-and-take to pin down the patient's condition — this is a great demonstration of voice's potential.

After Hours Doctor's Office and the mashup contest's runners-up (FishLign and RoboCal ) also prove the contest's point: The number of people who can create voice-enabled applications is growing rapidly. Howe, for example, used Tell Me VoiceXML, StrikeIron Global SMS and Amazon Web Services to create After Hours Doctor's Office, even while confessing that he was no Tell Me expert.

Voice is also showing up in real estate, where mobile phones can be the gateway to an increasingly wide palette of services . Iperia recently demonstrated an application at the VON Expo conference that would be triggered by a prospective buyer dialing the "for-sale" number at a house. Depending on the caller's intentions, the mobile could then display a virtual tour of the house; a spec sheet including cost, size and features; or a direct connection with the real-estate agent who represents the property.

Security

Voice is also coming to security , although not quite in the way that devotees of action movies and spy novels might imagine. The days of routine voice-print authentication exist, as ever, in the future, but developers are still finding interesting ways to incorporate voice into aspects of security. In fact, Thomas Howe's name comes up again in this context. His consultancy is developing a mashup for a Texas IT company that will eliminate help-desk jobs by allowing employees to call in and use their IDs to get their passwords reset without human interaction. Howe says this mashup uses both Web services and voice.

In addition, social-networking service Ccube Inc. is using VoIP for security purposes through voiceKey, which involves speaking a code word to authenticate yourself to the Ccube system. This is not a"Mission: Impossible "-type voice-recognition technology, but it seems to rely on the caller being the only person knowing his or her code word. Ccube can recognize this word being spoken as easily as an airline's phone-reservation system can, without having to voice-print the caller. Just take the usual password precaution of choosing an unusual or unexpected combination, and avoid the temptation to default to "Open, sesame."

Featured Research
  • Better Together

    It is absolutely essential to the success of your business to employ excellent communicators AND provide them with the support that they need in order to be successful. When you pair your VoIP phone system with UC, you can create a seamless, centralized communication system that your teams can use to collaborate in any medium they choose. more

  • Mobile Communication Showdown

    It's no secret that businesses are becoming agiler and employees are spending more time away from their desks. The question isn't should we get rid of our landlines, but how quickly can we replace them?However, staying connected with your colleagues, clients, and customers is absolutely essential for cultivating long-term, lucrative relationships that will help your company achieve success. more

  • The Best Business Phone Systems in 2017

    71% of people say they are more creative of people when they are able to collaborate on teams. Collaboration is essential to business success and has never been more impactful than today. As the number of conversations outside of face-to-face meetings and travel increases, it is important for you to invest in a phone system that will allow your business to flourish. more

  • The Future of VoIP Security

    Looking to invest in a VoIP system? With the fantastic strides that have occurred in communication technology one thing to keep in mind is there has also been an increase in concerns surrounding security. As an example of this, in the third quarter of 2016 alone, there were over 18 million malware samples captured. more

  • Impressive VoIP Features for Business Growth

    Great communication is an important building block of business success. Let this sink in, through a simple internet connection, you can connect with people around the globe, from where you are at that moment. All of this is possible with a VoIP phone system, and if you don't have one you should be seriously be considering getting one. more