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March 1999


rich.gif (5262 bytes) Y2K Disaster Party: Will Anyone Be There?

BY RICH TEHRANI


I've had it - I'm fed up with the trade and general press. It seems that every publication I pick up is strewn with articles on only one subject: Y2K. I have tried to keep my exasperation in check, but I must tell you that the Y2K level of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) is at Armageddon levels. The press is screaming a full order of magnitude louder than it should be. We all know that there will be many computer problems at the end of the year. My concern is that certain publications don't seem to have a handle on the ramifications of this bug, and as such, they tend to exaggerate the effect of the Y2K bug on the global economy.

Pick up any financial magazine and you can flip through its pages to reveal an article on the Y2K bug, usually written by the same reporter who writes about issues such as the political climate in the Middle East and the resultant fluctuations in gas prices at the local pump. While I often rely on such reporters for detailed information on issues such as gas and oil futures and converting Euros to dollars, perhaps they should leave technology to those able to converse about it intelligently.

These writers are merely dabblers when it comes to Y2K issues, and they are spreading insane scenarios. Here are my favorites: incredible losses in corporate profits, global economic recession, depression, all corporate and individual assets washed away, and, of course, nuclear holocaust. Get real!

Please don't get me wrong - I fully acknowledge that there are many computer programs still in operation today whose designers never intended them to be in use at the turn of the century. A programmer at TMC™ consisted of writing programs in the 1980s, I too was guilty of programming with absolutely no regard for the year 2000. All of my programs were designed to last two to four years, tops. As a programmer, I would have bet my car that in ten years my programs would all be obsolete. Lo and behold, programs I wrote in 1982 were still responsible for delivering magazines to subscribers until 10 months ago! I still can't believe how long these programs lasted.

This of course is a common scenario - instead of overhauling old programs written in BASIC, Fortran, and COBOL as expected, companies are scrambling to hook up all of their workers with Web access, e-mail access, the latest Windows OS, firewalls, CTI, laptops, intranets, VPNs, and a host of other new technologies. These distractions and the associated training that they bring are necessary, but they weren't taken into consideration five years ago. TMC has also shifted its priorities many times as new technology has emerged, and every company is faced with these concerns.

In the CTI space specifically, the common feeling among board vendors is that the operating system is the problem and not the boards. As long as the operating system and CPU in the host computer are Y2K-compliant, so is the application. Bear in mind, however, that voice mail, IVR, auto-attendants, and ACDs are all potential problem areas that need to be checked and upgraded prior to the millennium.

HOW SERIOUS IS Y2K?
As so many writers in financial journals have somehow become technology experts, please indulge me and let me dabble in some financial predictions that are based on logic and reasoning rather than FUD. When we reach the year 2000, and indeed in the months preceding it, many computer systems will fail. Some of these systems will be mission-critical and their failure will cause irreparable harm. Most systems will have to be upgraded and become Y2K compliant - in many cases these systems will work fine if you just set the date back and reboot. If systems are dealing with financial applications such as invoicing, setting the date back will not work, but most systems will work fine with this simple date fix until the applications are upgraded.

So far, so inconvenient. But nothing disastrous. That's just the point. Indeed, to really get a feel for the Y2K problem, we should equate it to something else that is inconvenient - say, the occasional power failure. My feeling is that the Y2K problem will have debilitating effects on a business similar to the effects of frequent power outages. TMC is located in Norwalk, CT, and our little city has recently had an incredible number of power outages due to a boom in construction on nearby roads. To combat this problem, we have protected our company's interests by installing a $10,000 UPS unit in our office. This UPS unit will power our servers for up to 24 hours in the event of another outage.

My point is that when a system breaks, the natural tendency is to fix the system and to safeguard against future breakage. In short, when our systems don't work as a result of a Y2K problem, we will upgrade these systems and pay people to fix them. There's no mystery and (more important), no catastrophe.

Let's review this for those financial writers who will no doubt have this Outlook forwarded to them. When something is broken, we fix it. When we fix something, we pay for it. When we pay for something, someone makes lots of money. When someone makes lots of money, they spend it. When someone spends their excess money, they spend it on nice houses and cars and other things that expand our economy. So the Y2K bug will be a big problem for some of us, but to fix it, we will all go out and spend lots of money. Although I have little formal financial training, I believe that people spending lots of money is generally good for any economy (particularly if the spending is in some way an investment, which spending on better technology certainly is).

When faced with the decision of whether to overhaul an aging computer or to buy a new one, most of us will go out and buy new equipment. Great PCs are now available for less than $1,000, and we will be seeing a flood of computer purchases as a result of Y2K preparation. Expect computer and related stocks to soar as PCs are replaced around the world.

So let's deduce what will happen specifically to the CTI industry. Auto-attendants, voice mail, IVR systems, ACDs, and some PBXs will not work properly at the turn of the century. We will all be forced to upgrade our old systems, or we will decide to replace them with state-of-the-art equipment. So, voice/data switch and PC-PBX manufacturers and board-level vendors will have a tremendous opportunity to increase their sales in the next few years. Expect earnings and stock prices of these companies to do very well as soon as others realize what is happening. The Web will easily replace some older IVR and audiotext applications - in this case, companies that sell routers and CSU/DSUs will benefit greatly from this shift in information delivery systems.

To prepare for the Y2K bug, take inventory of the various non-compliant IVR and voice mail systems that are in your office (as well as other non-CTI systems that might be non-compliant) and start thinking about replacing them as soon as possible. The most important thing is to avoid being forced into a quick fix, when with a little planning you can buy a more advanced, open-architecture system that will serve you well in 2000 and beyond. In fact, TMC is faced with the same problem - our current voice mail system is DOS-based, and we plan on upgrading to unified messaging soon to avoid any Y2K problems.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to prepare for the Y2K bug is to learn about new technology. In the event that some of your systems need replacement, make sure you have done your research and know all of your options. If you need to replace your PBX or ACD, make sure you seriously consider a voice/data switch or PC-PBX/ACD. Likewise, voice mail systems are obsolete and should be replaced with unified messaging whenever possible. A little bit of planning today will make sure that if you do need to replace anything, you will make the best decision.


What's New At CTI™ Expo Spring 1999 In D.C?

We have added so much to CTI EXPO that we had to start producing a monthly newsletter just to get all information out to our readers. At TMC™, we constantly come up with new ideas to make CTI EXPO the greatest trade show you have ever attended. We expect over 400 exhibitors - more than double the number of exhibitors at our first CTI EXPO in Baltimore last year. In addition, we expect our exhibit space to be 200 percent larger than CTI EXPO Spring in 1998. There are more companies than ever to compare to one another before making your next vital purchasing decision.

Beyond providing more exhibitors for you to visit and making CTI EXPO Spring 1999 the largest East Coast industry show, we have also added two new seminar tracks: CTI Development and CTE Boot Camp.

CTI DEVELOPMENT TRACK

  • Selecting Boards And APIs: The Nuts And Bolts Of System Development
    This session will focus on providing you with the information you need to make intelligent decisions when selecting components that allow CTI development. Expect coverage of board essentials such as processors, form factors, buses, and APIs.
  • Consequences Of Selecting An Operating System, From The Obvious To The Obscure
    UNIX, Windows, NetWare, and QNX are all commonly used in CTI development. Overtime, each OS reveals its various strengths and weaknesses. Performance, reliability, security of supply, application portability, and lifecycle cost are only a few factors to consider when deciding which OS to choose for a given application. Come to this course to learn the essentials.
  • Application Generators - Breaking Free of the Custom-Coding Doldrums
    Application generators are essential tools for CTI development, but what if you need more power or reliability than they can provide? What if you want the power inherent in APIs and the flexibility of an app-gen? Which app-gen is best? These are a few of the many questions that will be answered - thus helping you make intelligent decisions about which app-gen is best for your given situation.
  • Failsafe CTI - Industrial Computers For Mission-Critical Applications
    CTI applications are, by definition, mission-critical. And yet many CTI applications are based on PC technology. How can this be? Aren't PCs notorious for crashes and failures? There really isn't a paradox here. In this session, we'll review what makes for a reliable platform: superior components, redundant power supplies, redundant storage, efficient cooling, etc. In addition, we'll examine the benefits of hot-swappability and alternative chassis, backplanes, and enclosures. Session participants, familiarized with these basics, will handle platform selection with confidence while cultivating the 24x7 mindset essential to development success.
  • Be The Packet - Zen And The Art Of IP Telephony Development
    Helping developers avoid low-level details, and keeping them focused on the all-important "value add" - well, that's the purpose of any development tool. But in the matter of tools for IP telephony, developers may want to dwell on a few details, at least initially, before assuming any particular tool or set of tools actually incorporates all the new and possibly unfamiliar (but necessary) attributes. Does a given platform provide support for multiple vocoding algorithms? Silence suppression? Echo cancellation? Out-of-band DTMF processing? Multiple H.323 clients? Gatekeeper compatibility? If it does, the platform may win the confidence of the developer, who will feel free to delegate low-level concerns, and to concentrate on building applications. Developers will also want to stay up-to-date on Microsoft's TAPI, which promises support for the H.323 gatekeeper, which is designed to permit interoperability among gateways from different vendors.
  • Creating The Call Center Of The 21st Century
    In any appraisal of the call center's future, the Internet looms large. But exactly how will the Internet impact the call center? To date, we've seen a gradual infusion of Internet-inspired innovations. First, call centers found ways to accommodate customers who preferred to transact business via e-mail. (Witness the rise of e-mail management applications that borrowed from the familiar ACD paradigm.) Next, we saw more interactive text-based interactions when call centers incorporated chat capabilities. Then, and even more ambitiously, call centers began deploying IP telephony, through Web call back and Web call through applications. What's next? By anticipating call center developments, and positioning themselves to facilitate these changes, developers will make themselves valued partners to call centers eager to build a bridge to the 21st century.
  • Open Sesame! How Speech Recognition Technology Reveals A CTI Treasure Trove
    While having a computer control telecommunications is a fine thing, important questions remain: Who may tell the computer what to do? And when? And how? Ideally, individual users should control their own communications, and they should be able to do so continuously and interactively - and as conveniently as possible. What sort of interface permits all that? A keypad? No. A GUI? Not quite. Speech recognition? Now you're talking! It would be difficult to imagine a more natural and flexible means of expressing preferences and transacting business than through ordinary speech. By rolling speech recognition capabilities into their applications, developers will ensure that their applications will be easy to use. After all, what good is served by functionality that is too difficult to access?
  • Cruel To Be Kind - Torture-Testing Your Apps
    You love your application, but you must resist the tendency to be overprotective. You're not doing your application any favors by coddling it during development, only to expose it to the rigors of the real world during deployment. Imagine the harsh things a client might say about your app were it to fail in the field. Avoid that sort of heartbreak by making sure you institute a test program before deployment. And test thoroughly, even ruthlessly. Basically, the idea is to subject your app to a little rough treatment now, to avoid real pain later. With an adequate testing program, developers can evaluate their applications for time-to-answer at increasing load levels, number of busy signals, rings before answer, timing between prompts, database response times, prompt errors, and call handling errors - characteristics that can account for an application's success or failure.

COMPUTER TELEPHONY BOOT CAMP
Here, we will provide attendees with a wealth of resources provided by the CT Institute (www.ctinstitute.com). The preliminary course outline is as follows:

  • Data Networking Overview
  • OSI Model
  • Internetworking
  • Telephony Concepts
  • Telephony Switches
  • Connectivity to Switches
  • Wiring and Distribution
  • Traffic Analysis
  • Advanced Telephony Applications
  • CT Concepts
  • CT System Configurations
  • Applied CT Systems
  • CT Solutions

Come to CTI EXPO, May 24-26 at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., to get in on these exciting new conferences.


Live Multimedia Blended Call Center Featured At CTI™ EXPO Spring 1999

The CTI EXPO Spring 1999 exhibit hall will witness the first Live Multimedia Blended Call Center to be demonstrated at a trade show - ever!

With this event, which is somewhat similar to a learning center, CTI EXPO (www.ctiexpo.com) and CellIT (www.cellit.com) intend to objectively educate attendees on the latest multimedia call center technology and trends. Unlike a learning center, where multiple vendors educate on similar technologies, this event will have various vendors collaborating to provide a cohesive solution.

As an added attraction, you will be able to witness this fully furnished and working call center making and taking telephone calls throughout CTI EXPO. If you have any involvement in the call center industry, you must come to CTI EXPO with all of your call center colleagues who need to stay current on where call center technology is headed. Come to CTI EXPO, May 24-26 at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., to keep up-to-date on the latest call center technology.








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