|Key systems and PBXs were once the only products that allowed corporations
to transmit and receive voice communications - even Centrex users with no CPE equipment
are just sharing a central PBX located at the telephone company's office. Recent
developments in the CTI market foreshadow the day when the PBX will be replaced by the
The voice/data switch is a device that switches both voice and data
and is capable of call control and other traditional PBX-like functions. Voice/data
switches allow a single wire to the desktop carrying voice and potentially video as data.
In some cases, a voice/data switch can also function as a network hub, a unified messaging
server and even a firewall. These products typically employ IP telephony, but don't have
to. For example, CellIT uses ATM to the desktop, but
does not currently employ IP.
In the last few years, PC-PBXs from Artisoft, NetPhone, Altigen and Picazo have made
steady inroads against established PBX vendors like Lucent and Nortel. As a fledgling
technology, these PC-PBXs have done well competing against traditional PBXs. Similar to
the PBXs they compete with, these products used traditional telephone wires to reach
telephones on users' desktops. These PC-PBXs were more than just a novelty: they
dramatically improved a person's productivity by providing features a traditional PBX was
not capable of. Web access to voice mail and other features that make the PBX much more
user-friendly facilitate dramatic productivity gains.
While PC-PBXs began to proliferate, companies like Sphere, CellIT, Selsius Systems and
NBX have been producing voice/data switches employing IP or ATM.
The adoption of the above products has been steady and I give companies selling PBX
alternatives a great deal of credit; in fact I give their sales forces and resellers even
more credit for competing against the big boys. If I were a reseller selling traditional
PBXs, I would tell customers that they should be very wary of new technology because it is
coming from companies that don't have decades of experience in telecommunications like
they do. I am certain traditional PBX resellers have been able to hang on to sales by
pitching their products in this manner. Nevertheless, how long will this strategy work?
The future of voice/data switches and PC-PBXs is very secure - they are telephony
equivalents of the PC - while the traditional PBX is the telephony equivalent of the
mainframe. History always repeats itself and hindsight in the computer industry is
foresight in the telephony industry. The traditional PBX must evolve or die.
The number of voice/data switch vendors at CTI EXPO Fall 1998 in San Jose is further
proof of how much interest there is in this new field. Praxon, StarVox, CellIT, Selsius
Systems and NetPhone are just a few of the exhibitors at CTI EXPO with voice/data switches
released or announced, and there was tremendous activity at their booths. Soon there will
be dozens of competitors in this space.
Some of the largest, most well-known switch vendors are also making a footprint in the
voice/data switching market. Rockwell, a leader in the call center market for years with
an established reputation for producing products that are reliable and scalable,
introduced a PC-based ACD, called Transcend, last March, marking the first time that a
major ACD vendor or PBX vendor released a PC-PBX/ACD.
We've predicted for years that data networking companies would eventually enter the
telecom space and Cisco did not disappoint - it recently purchased Selsius Systems and
shortly thereafter pledged to replace its own corporate PBXs with Selsius' voice/data
Nortel purchased Bay Networks for 9 billion dollars and although it hasn't announced a
voice/data switch, odds are we don't have to wait long. I don't even think Nortel needs to
release a voice/data switch - when a PBX company purchases a data networking company for 9
billion dollars, it becomes a voice/data market player.
Finally, Lucent released its IPES system
consisting of two voice/data switches of varying capacities. IPES scales from fitting the
needs of a small company all the way up to a large corporation and can also provide CLECs
with an appropriate platform to roll out voice and other enhanced services. Lucent will
also include an API that allows developers to augment the PBX with any feature or option
they choose. This is not trivial -- the entire CTI industry was born out of the fact that
computers could finally control PBXs. Open APIs give developers direct control over the
switch without the need for middleware.
We've seen how much activity the voice/data switch market has had recently; now it's
time to see some of the things voice/data switches based on IP can do for us:
- Voice/data switches can inherently be scaled and distributed easily and seamlessly,
- With open APIs, they can easily harness best-of-breed applications,
- They are inherently easier to use than traditional PBXs due to a Web browser interface,
- Installation should be much smoother than traditional PBXs,
- Upgrades can be downloaded automatically via the Web,
- They can be used to easily construct voice/data VPNs,
- Remote access is a breeze since any Internet telephony client connects seamlessly to the
voice/data switch with full in-office PBX feature set,
- No separate Internet telephony gateway is needed,
- Web/call center integration where your customers use Internet telephony to call your
agents can be easily handled since IP telephony is the native switch protocol,
- Lower administration costs - again, Web browser access,
- Lower long-distance costs via Internet or Intranet telephony,
- Increased productivity as CTI features are easily accessed and less expensive since they
are software based, and
- Multimedia collaboration is built into the switch since it supports H.323.
I've been waiting for years for the voice/data switch market to gain solid ground - and
with such highly visible companies like Lucent, Cisco and Nortel as major supporters of
this new technology, I think it is finally a reality. Superior applications, increased
productivity and flexibility as well as lower cost of ownership assure that voice/data
switches should be your primary choice for all future PBX and ACD purchase decisions.
|Call Center Decision
Makers Need CTI EXPO
Six of the leading voice/data switch
vendors will be objectively educating attendees on next-generation voice/data products at
the voice/data switch learning center at CTI EXPO Spring 1999 in Washington, D.C.,
At TMC, our commitment to objectively educate our readers and attendees is unyielding:
We continuously strive to provide you with information you need - information that is
vital to your career and from a source you can trust - TMC. Our editors and TMC Labs
engineers toil endlessly to help call center decision makers purchase products that best
suit their needs. Innovation and relentlessly perfecting every detail of the ideal
educational expo experience for our valued attendees is what keeps CTI EXPO ahead of
all other shows.
CTI EXPO promises the utmost in education as well as information you can use to
better your company's future and the future of your career. CTI EXPO will help a
wide variety of people involved in call center decision making - the following list will
outline why different groups of people in your organization must attend CTI EXPO.
Call Center Decision Makers have seen rapid advancements in call
center technology in the last few years. If your business revolves around a call center
and you are able to implement the latest technology quickly, you will stay way ahead of
your competition. Implement technology slowly or not at all and new competitors will eat
your lunch. It is that simple. Amazon.com scares the heck out of Barnes and Noble, and
with good reason - Amazon.com has changed the paradigm of how books and other items are
sold on the Internet. Had Barnes and Noble been first to implement a strong e-commerce
presence, perhaps Amazon.com wouldn't have made such a big splash in the media and on Wall
Street. This same thinking is critical in call center technology that connects agents to
the switch - the call center with the most flexible technology wins the call center battle
against its competitors. The voice/data switch is the most flexible technology to come to
call center in years - you can't afford to ignore it.
MIS/Telecom Managers responsible for the future of call centers must
keep up with the latest industry advancements and work with other call center managers to
make sure their customer interaction centers are state-of-the-art and operating at peak
efficiency. Voice/data switches are as at home in the MIS back office as they are in the
call center. Better yet, you can manage these things with a Web browser from anywhere -
what are you waiting for - finally a PBX that acts like all the other devices on your data
network. Employing technologies encompassing IP, Ethernet and/or ATM means that your
technical expertise is critical in the purchase of a voice/data switch - you must be at
CTI EXPO to make an informed purchase decision for your call center and IS/Telecom
Interconnects selling PBXs, you have been hearing for years that CTI
will change the way you work and the products you sell. The voice/data switch learning
center at CTI EXPO is the only place where you can come and see six of the leading
voice/data switch vendors without being pressured by a sales pitch - you can actually
spend time with these vendors in a low-pressure environment without being hassled or
barraged with sales information if you don't require it. How else will you find out which
product is most appropriate for you to sell in the future?
CTI EXPO is the industry event. No other trade show in any related industry can
claim over 270 exhibitors and over 15,000 attendees in its first year as we did at
CTI EXPO Fall 1998 in San Jose, California. CTI EXPO is one of the fastest
growing shows anywhere. Our dedication to you, our valued readers, is what will ensure
that CTI EXPO is the only show you need attend in the call center industry.
Please don't take my word for it - take a look at our list of testimonials from exhibitors and
attendees alike and judge for yourself. Mark your calendar today for CTI EXPO,
May 24-26 in D.C. at the Washington Convention Center, and to stay current on the latest
updates, be sure to register for free at www.ctiexpo.com.
|TMC Labs Moves And
When TMC began to publish TMC Labs reviews in C@LL
CENTER Solutions magazine, we made a decision early on to publish only the most
in-depth and objective reviews of products in the call center industry. By hiring
engineers who seek to expose product weaknesses ranging from difficult installations to
buggy GUIs and limited feature sets, C@LL CENTER Solutions was the first industry
publication to provide in-depth and objective testing of products by actual engineers
rather than journalists.
Over the last few years the office space we had allotted to TMC Labs has become
more and more crowded with PC-PBXs, ACDs, Internet telephony gateways, legacy PBXs,
industrial computers and a host of voice and fax boards. Furthermore, TMC Labs has
recently taken on the added monthly responsibility of supplying both INTERNET TELEPHONY
and C@LL CENTER Solutions magazines with reviews. This is in addition to supplying
monthly reviews to CTI magazine.
As TMC Labs takes on more responsibility supplying reviews to three magazines, we
have outgrown our current office space and must expand into new offices. In the upcoming
months, TMC Labs will be moving into another nearby office in Norwalk, Connecticut,
a few miles away from our 1 Technology Plaza headquarters.
With our new office space and even more state-of-the-art testing equipment, you can
expect TMC Labs to continue its dominant role of providing you with the most
in-depth and objective reviews of all call center products.
We always love to hear from our valued readers. If you have any comments about our
labs, please feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
or e-mail our executive technology editor Tom Keating (email@example.com) directly if you prefer. Tom
has done a wonderful job building and growing TMC Labs from its humble beginnings. If you
find the reviews in TMC publications helpful or have suggestions that will help us improve
our publications, feel free to drop him a line and let him know.