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Unified communications tool keeps users connected

As more users work from home or on the road, giving them seamless, one-number connectivity has become a necessity. One product is helping workers stay tied into a single system no matter where they are.

When employees started leaving Chicago and working from home, Modern Retail was left in the lurch.

The PBX installed at the 8-year-old company, which provides Internet services for boutiques and specialty retailers, worked much better when everyone was in the office. With the workforce now spread out among five states, transferring calls, retrieving messages, and getting an actual person on the phone became a hassle.

"It was really hard to pull everyone together," said Modern Retail president Todd Myers. "It was hard to transfer calls. I wanted to bring all of these people together into one common system."

But Myers said he quickly found that there aren't many options out there for tying together various communication methods for SMBs and mobile workers. Maintaining the PBX and voice mail system was getting harder, however.

"It's a lot of complexity and it's costly," he said. "I'd rather have someone else doing it for me."

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Myers said his company found RingCentral, a San Mateo, Calif.-based hosted PBX service. RingCentral this week rolled out its latest on-demand telecommunication service, RingCentral Online 3.0. The service combines scheduling, call routing, and dialing options to keep SMBs and mobile workers in the loop and connected to one common phone system no matter where they are, unifying communication by combining home, office, and mobile phones; VoIP; e-mail; messaging; and faxing with one-number accessibility. It also allows companies to use a toll-free number with extensions that reach outside the business to contact workers in any location.

The new service features customized rules for receiving and routing calls, personalized announcements and music, and an easy-to-navigate dial-by-name directory.

RingCentral Online is a hosted PBX, not a disparate, cobbled approach of home, office, and mobile phone and fax numbers, which can lead to missed messages, and unmanageable work and personal communication, ultimately hindering productivity.

RingCentral takes them all -- landline, wireless, VoIP and e-mail -- and ties them together. It also integrates dial tone independence and faxing capabilities without the need for any new hardware or software.

It gives the user one single phone number that reaches each device or platform, said RingCentral CEO Vlad Shmunis. It also has a dial-by-name directory.

When a call comes in, a window pops up in a Web browser. The user can select from a menu the phone or device to which to route that call. In real time, the call can be sent to the office, the home, or a cell phone, or it can be sent directly to voice mail. That voice mail can be retrieved through e-mail or traditionally over the phone.

RingCentral Online 3.0 combines features from RingCentral's CallController and RingOut capabilities. CallController lets users manage and react to calls online, including text-to-speech responses, while RingOut enables users to place calls from any Windows application and allows them to use their toll-free number as their Caller ID, Shmunis said.

Users can also set specific rules for the way each call is handled, based on the time of day and the identity of the caller.

All of this is transparent to the caller, who has a single phone number that connects every method. With Presence technology, by contrast, callers control which method they can use to make contact.

Myers said RingCentral is transparent to the caller, who would have no idea that the person on the phone is not in the Chicago office. It also allows consistent contact, giving a more professional appearance. Myers said he has also used RingCentral to add extensions for contractors who work for the company. To the caller, that contractor is a Modern Retail employee.

"It gives one face to our customers," he said. "[Callers] dial an extension and they get that person."

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