ISSUE 544: The high tech office- March
Talkworks Pro allows small offices to
stereotypical office in the 1950s or 1960s contained a pool of
stenographers and typists. Virtually all that is now gone. Most of us
type our own documents and reports. And more and more, receptionists
are being replaced by voice mail systems.
The Internet makes it possible for
small businesses to use a Web page to project themselves to the wider
world. And now, improved software from utilities giant Symantec
allows those same small businesses and home offices to get the sort of
phone and fax services that used to require a trained employee.
TalkWorks Pro, developed in Toronto by
what used to be Delrina Software, offers a complete voicemail
and fax message system in a box for about $200. It's designed for users
with a Windows-compatible computer and a voice-capable fax modem.
Version 3 offers a host of new
capabilities. It allows users to use wizards and templates to quickly
create the voicemail message boxes they need.
The system combines the phone company's
CallerID option. Phonebooks stored on your computer display onscreen
information about your callers and the program supports address books
created by ACT! and Microsoft Outlook, as well as standard
database formats. You can designate phone numbers as "Special Callers."
The boss, family members or your key customers can get a different
phone message or you can have their calls routed directly to you.
You can record a message and have it
broadcast to a list of phone numbers and set the software to forward
incoming calls or messages or to track you down. You can have the
system send messages as e-mail attachments, so you can get them over
the Internet wherever you happen to be.
You can even generate different rules
for how to deal with messages (or important callers) during the evening
or on weekends.
The program includes a copy of
Symantec's WinFax Pro, which simplifies use of your modem's fax
capabilities. WinFax's features are integrated into TalkWorks'
interface, along with the telephone and messaging, making it all much
easier to use. And combining TalkWorks and WinFax features allows you
to create a fax-on-demand system so callers can request documents from
a list, which will be automatically faxed back after they hang up.
All calls can be logged, generating
detailed reports of who's calling or faxing and which fax documents are
being requested. Even hang-ups are logged and reported. Users of ACT!
can automatically enter calls into their client database.
Since most offices don't have a
fax-modem in each computer, the program's capabilities can be shared
across the office network.
Setting up a complex system can be a
chore. This software takes much of the pain out of it, with wizards and
templates for common tasks, and multimedia tutorials to walk you
through the more advanced options. The basic user interface resembles
an office phone. (Though I wonder about this trend in software design
that makes programs look like gadgets in our home or office.)
Of course, like self-serve gas
stations, this sort of software gets us to do more and more tasks that
we used to pay someone to do for us. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with
the long-term implications of this use of technology.
And I'm certainly not happy with giving
small business and home office the opportunity to put me through the
sorts of voice mail hell that too often confronts me when I'm trying to
reach someone in a large organization. And there are certainly times
when I don't want my computer phoning multiple numbers in an attempt to
track me down.
Despite these lingering doubts, I
suspect that many will find its faxing and messaging capabilities very
useful and will appreciate its ability to let a smaller organization
sound the same as its larger counterparts over the phone.
If you're not interested in the
voicemail features, WinFax Pro is available on its own. It costs $178,
or $103 to upgrade from an earlier version. *