Hold All My Calls, Except . . .

I got a taste of how IOTUM’s Relevance Engine for personal communications works when I called IOTUM CEO Alec Saunders for an interview.

I was told by a nice ladylike voice that IOTUM had decided that Saunders wasn’t available to take my call. I was allowed to leave a voicemail and Saunders called me back from his car. Unfortunately, it was when my three phones were ringing simultaneously. If I had IOTUM that wouldn’t have happened.

The Ottawa-based company is going after the well-documented communications overload that most of us experience today.

We’re not imagining that we have so many interruptions that we can’t get any work done. Research by Gloria Marks of the University of California, Irvine reports that office workers are interrupted an average of every three minutes.

But tools like “do not disturb” aren’t much of an answer. Their operation is black and white — let all the calls through or shut everybody out. They don’t let allow you, for example, to take that call from your mother about your father’s heart attack.

Saunders thinks his company can bring some needed intelligence to that grey landscape between black and white. “We can’t help you with the guy who wants to come into your office to talk about his weekend but we can help with the phone,” he says.

IOTUM’s Relevance Engine manages communications based on your preferences and contextual information like where you are and what you’re doing — what IOTUM calls ‘context.’

The system uses things that an administrative assistant would use to make the same decision — for example, are you in a meeting or out of the office, or is it your children’s school calling. It looks at your calendar, your IM status, and the caller.

Iotum routes calls automatically to your cell phone when you’re out of the office and notes calling trends — like back-and-forth calls to the same person – to let important calls cut through the clutter. It even gives a higher priority to calls from people with whom you’re scheduled for a meeting that day, anticipating that it may indicate a change of agenda or that the meeting has to be rescheduled or postponed.

This sounds great. But too often smart systems demand a lot of configuration effort from users — relegating them to the “good idea, too much work” file. Saunders says that IOTUM has simplicity designed in from the start. “It’s a three step setup.”

First, you tell the system what numbers to reach you. The system automatically reads contacts from Microsoft Outlook. Second, you categorize your contacts — IOTUM will read the contact categories from Outlook. Third, you tell the system when you want and don’t want to be contacted. “IOTUM takes care of the rest,” says Saunders. “It’s very unobtrusive.”

The Relevance Engine resides on the network and integrates with all the places you have information about yourself like your address book, calendar, and instant messaging client.

IOTUM comes with an open XML interface and built in integration with the popular open source PBX, Asterisk. IOTUM can interface with any PBX, softswitch or media gateway, says Saunders. While the Asterisk interface is the company’s most popular, he says, “If there’s a programmatic interface it’s likely we can interface with it.”

IOTUM is also planning to integrate AIM phone and this feature will be available early next year.