Ultimate Computer Telephony Server: The $500 Mac mini

If you’ve always wanted a complete Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) solution for your small business or home office but were put off by mega-thousand dollar sticker shock, there’s good news. Your clean living finally has paid off. Thanks to Apple’s introduction of the $499 Mac mini and Ovolab’s 2.0 release of their $150 Phlink telephony server, you now can build an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) call center and auto-attendant with complete messaging, voice mailing, call routing, data base lookuping, out-dialing, faxing, and email message forwarding for under $650 … in one afternoon. And, yes, I’ve done it so this isn’t a sales pitch. Need support for additional incoming lines? Just add additional $150 Phlink server modules, and you’re in business. If you’re contemplating building the Home Automation Server we discussed last week, then this telephony server is a perfect complement. All you’ll really need is Phlink and a little additional RAM when you purchase your Mac mini.

Here’s a quick introduction to Ovolab Phlink’s feature set. Using any phone line with caller ID (including VOIP lines such as those we’ve previously recommended), you can build customized solutions to answer and route calls based upon the caller’s identity. This customization includes user-specific IVR menus to retrieve customer data, weather reports, sales figures, or virtually anything else you need. After retrieval, the caller can use a touch tone phone to route a fax or email to a specific phone number or email address. Or you can use the IVR capabilities to capture voice mail messages which immediately can be retrieved using any web browser or emailed to you or your cell phone. All you need is an Ovolab-provided script. If you need to turn on the sprinkler system in your front yard while away on vacation, that’s no problem either. Just phone home, key in your secret sprinkler watering code, and Phlink will pass the instruction along to the Home Automation Server we built on the same Mac mini last week using Indigo. Another great use of this system is to route telemarketers and folks on your personal do-not-call list into that special place: IVR Hell, an endless variety of choices to press 1 for this and press 2 for that. It can entertain obnoxious sales people for hours at a time, and you’ll never even know the phone rang. Or, if you prefer, Phlink can just disconnect these calls. Finally, you can use the Mac’s powerful text-to-speech capabilities which are incorporated into Phlink to build customized responses to queries from callers. For example, a customer could be provided a current inventory status based upon a customer-initiated query. The possibilities are endless. And if you’re not that imaginative, Ovolab has assembled an incredible array of scripts to get you started. Some of you probably are shaking your head saying, “I’ve tried cheap IVR solutions before, and the touch-tone commands just weren’t reliable.” Well, Phlink is bundled with a USB hardware adapter to handle caller ID and touch-tone translation, and I have found it to be just as accurate as corporate systems costing thousands of dollars. You won’t be disappointed. Just send me a check for half your savings, and we’ll call it a day. Enjoy!

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