Call Accounting Comes Of Age
[Click here for Call Accounting Vendors]
By MICHAEL F. O'BRIEN
In business enterprises large and small, call accounting systems today are probably as
ubiquitous as, well, the telephone. They are an integral part of tracking telephony costs,
both standard and IP-based, plus detecting fraud and misuse.
There are a variety of applications, from hotels and resorts placing surcharges on
guests' telephone bills, to call centers tracking agent productivity, to law firms billing
back clients for long-distance calls, to sales and technical support managers making sure
employees are on the phone often enough - and to the right people or places - to get the
From its humble beginnings in the DOS world of the early 1980s, call accounting has
expanded its capabilities in the age of datacom and telecom convergence. It now is
GUI-based for ease of use, and has the flexibility for network access. Expanded features
include browser-based access - with reports in HTML format - real-time reporting, carrier
cost comparison, bill verification, support for multi-language and multi-currency
reporting, and tracking of IP telephony and Internet use. Most systems now feature some
type of toll fraud detection; some can actually disconnect a suspect call.
Generally speaking, telecommunications represents the second or third largest monthly
expense in an organization, with telephone calls making up two-thirds of this cost. And
this is not a fixed cost, but a variable one, depending on how well it is managed.
Therefore, it is prudent for any business to closely track this expense via some type of
call accounting system.
A good call accounting system can reduce phone usage by up to 30 percent, and allocate
telephone costs by department. Also, call accounting can help managers determine if there
are enough telephone lines in service, or more need to be added.
Call accounting systems capture, record, analyze, and organize information on calls
from a Station Message Detail Reporting (SMDR) port, taking the data to prepare a variety
of reports, which can be customized by the user. The captured information can include the
extension used, the call's destination, the time and date of the call, its duration, which
circuit was used (WATS, long distance carrier, LEC, etc.), and often, an account code
identifying the caller, client or project.
Some systems also provide information from the switch on incoming calls, including the
trunk used, where it came from, if IVR or ANI were used, where it was transferred, and its
Where time on the phone is an indicator of worker productivity, call accounting can be
an invaluable tool. It can help determine staffing levels, provide proof of placed calls,
and help identify circuit outages through traffic reports and call detail analysis.
With real-time reporting, calls are costed out as they come in, allowing instant access
to summary reports, and a complete phone bill can be generated on demand.
Scott Kelly, a product manager of voice processing products for Vodavi CT, said call
accounting has become pretty much of a commodity item. The basics of what call accounting
offers, Kelly said, haven't changed significantly since its inception.
"There's really not much to call accounting, it's a simple application,"
Kelly said. "The actual functionality hasn't changed since the DOS world. You can
have multiple stations, with each running reports at the desktop. What we've done over the
years is try to make it easier to use, adding some more bells and whistles. Our call
collection is now more flexible in terms of viewing the process record, how it was
processed, how many calls were processed over the last hour. That's what we've seen over
the past few years: polishing, fixing the bugs, improving the manual, making the product
easier to use, adding features here or there. We've added general database technology that
lets you take advantage of back-ups when the power goes down."
While some call accounting systems still use separate buffer boxes to collect and store
the call data, Kelly said it isn't necessary with the speed, capacity, and functionality
of today's desktop PCs.
"In the old days, everyone used buffer boxes, because there was so much
information and so little capacity, they would buffer the records so at night, it could be
dumped into a PC," Kelly said. "Nowadays, the buffer boxes are more expensive
than the PCs, so everybody is doing call accounting from the desktop."
Slower machines with lower capacities also meant it was difficult to run other
applications while a PC was doing call accounting.
"It was hard for a secretary to be doing, say, word processing, while you were
running call accounting," Kelly said. "But now, with LAN-based PCs as file
servers and print servers, the same PC can be used for call collecting and other
functions, instead of having to hook up a proprietary black box."
Brian Sherry, a product manager with Veramark, said before call accounting, a business
would simply carve up a telephone bill, dividing it by the number of departments.
"They used to receive a bill and say, 'I have a $10,000 phone bill and 10
departments, so everyone owes 10 percent,' " Sherry said. "But we found that was
not good enough for corporations. That's the main reason for designing call accounting
systems, setting up an organizational hierarchy, with departments as cost centers."
One cost-saving advantage of a call accounting system, Sherry said, is using it to see
if a PBX is configured correctly. "You can run traffic reports, and see there were
5,000 calls in a month to a particular exchange," he said. "So if you had a T1
or FX line, instead of costing you $4,000 in long distance, it would cost you $1,000. By
doing that, you can see how you can save money in a particular area."
Rito Salomone, president of Resource Software International (RSI), said basic call
accounting - boilerplate functions like call processing and reporting - no longer
qualified as a "killer app," but was still a major component of any
"In the past, call accounting was just a passive system, collecting information from
the PBX or key system," Salomone said. "Now, depending on the application, you
may be proactive, commanding the system to do something for you through the
But with more and more companies looking to track all their telephony traffic, both
PSTN and IP, call accounting is experiencing a resurgence. "A lot of applications are
focused more now on data, and telephony over IP, as opposed to just standard PSTN,"
Salomone said. "It's becoming more sophisticated, and repackaged with new
With everyone striving for Y2K compliance, companies are taking a second look at their
older call accounting systems - and vendors are benefiting. Salomone said RSI has seen
sales well beyond its projections thus far for 1999, much of it due to Y2K.
"We still have customers who had call accounting installed on old 286s with DOS,
and they're working fine. They'd love to keep them another 20 years, but with Y2K, they've
been somewhat pressured into doing an upgrade."
RSI has developed partnerships with firms such as Nortel, Lucent, and NEC, to help RSI
develop "a true CTI-based call accounting solution."
"They provide us with some technology, drivers and open architecture, so we as
developers can take it and develop applications around them," Salomone said. "It
allows us to take control of the telephone system, when required, such as forced and
Zeev Brauder, vice president of product management for MIND CTI, agreed with Salomone
that call accounting was back on the map again, as enterprises look to track their IP
traffic as well as standard public network calls.
"As the (telecom) market becomes more competitive, the role of call accounting
will become much larger," Brauder said. "There's a need for a tool that allows
you to manage all the different bills from different providers. It will have a bigger role
in traffic management and resource management than it used to, because of all the new
opportunities corporations have today."
Brauder said MIND is working with 15 different VoIP venders and manufacturers to create
a call accounting system that can manage both IP and standard traffic in one consolidated
package, which will be available this quarter.
Michael F. O'Brien is associate editor of Technology Marketing Corporation. He can be
reached for comment at email@example.com
|An Overview Of Call Accounting Solution Providers
technologies rapidly emerge and change, businesses need to continually reexamine the
various pieces of their legacy telephony systems to gauge if an upgrade is needed. This
not only ensures optimal performance, but increases network flexibility and integration
with LANs, WANs and the Internet.
To that end, the following is a representative list of business-oriented call
accounting solution providers, their product/service offerings, and a partial list of
CALL ACCOUNTING VENDORS
151 Superior Blvd.
Units 13 & 14
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2L1
manufactures, markets and supports products and services for telecom management
CDR-View Inline, Com-View, Pole-Star CS
data collection, processing and storing, buffering, real-time analysis, transmission to
single or multiple systems via voice or data networks, user-defined polling schedules,
2381 Bristol Circle
telecom resource management applications
Call Accounting (for SOHO)
stores and processes call data from a three-line phone, reports on cost allocation,
charge-backs and system administration
Telemanagement Solutions, Inc.
200 Meadowlands Parkway, 2nd
Secaucus, N.J. 07094
develops, markets and supports telelcom management solutions
TABSalarm, TABS for Windows
Windows-based call record collection, processing, report generation, automatic early fault
notification, call data on Mers MS SQL servers
333 Sylvan Avenue
Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 07632
telecom billing, accounting and management software
collection, storage, analysis, reporting, compatible with voice/fax over IP vendors,
inter-billing between providers, call management reports, query generator, report
scheduler, fraud detection
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PO Box 181
Kaysville, Utah 84037
accounting billing and tracking solutions provider
definition of call detail records, user-defined SMDR record format importing and
datastream layout, real-time data acquisition, document management, unlimited sub-accounts
Software International, Ltd.
40 King Street West
Oshawa, Ontario L1H 1A4
manufactures, and distributes a complete line of CTI voice and data management solutions
telecom management suite, including call accounting functions: traffic analysis, carrier
cost comparisons, alarm notification, Internet usage, forced/verified account codes
220-19 Reservoir St.
Needham, Mass. 02494
CTI and management software for the telcom industry
Software Call Accounting
e-mail aware, 32-bit application and database, LAN user extension list browser, integrated
site management, detail and summary reports, documents in HTML
El Dorado Hills, CA 95762
solution provider for large, multi-site enterprises with high call volumes
Center outsources polling/archiving, call reporting, report processing, system backups,
tariff updates, downloads reports to intranet server, Internet report distribution
Savi Ranch Parkway #210
Yorba Linda, CA 92887
of real-time, on-site call accounting, telephone billing, and telemanagement systems
Call Accounting for Staff Calls
costs by extension, cost centers or departments, client bill back, supports all North
American billing structures, polling and pricing in SMDR real-time, report generation
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Jefferson Office Park
790 Turnpike Street
North Andover, Mass. 01845
PC-based software for the telecom industry
network-based, multi-user telephone management system, LAN, WAN or PC-based, e-mail
enabled, supports multi-carrier charging and client/authorization codes, database of up to
9 million call records
705 East Main Street
American Fork, Utah 81003
builds, assembles, sells and services call accounting and other telecom systems
call charge-back, supports 20 standard reports plus custom reports, toll fraud detection,
automatic report scheduler, preconfigured PBX/key system formats
215 Ridgedale Avenue
Florham Park, N.J. 07932
of call accounting software since 1984
Remote Manager, V&H call pricing module
data collection, supports all CDR/SMDR phone systems, call editing, auto report scheduler,
numeric caller-ID reporting, client account/user authorization codes
616 Marriott Drive
Nashville, Tenn. 37214
network accounting products for data and telecom, including call detail records and
Accountant, TRU RADIUS Accountant
and custom reports, compatible with virtually all PBX/Centrex/key systems, MAPI/SMTP
compliant for e-mailing reports, tracking and reporting of remote network use
3750 Monroe Avenue
Pittsford, N.Y. 14534
accounting, network usage management, traffic analysis and enterprise telecom management
systems and services
multi-site reporting and consolidation, auto report scheduling, five-level report
hierarchy, world-wide call rating, full report selection, fixed extension costing,
supports English, German, and Spanish
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8300 East Raintree Drive
Scottsdale, Ariz. 85260
voice/data/video convergence solutions for small to medium-sized businesses
North American Numbering Plan, desktop report generation, real-time pricing, supports most
PBXs, exports data to spreadsheets word processors, auto scheduler for any LAN user, seven
access levels for report writing
577 Airport Boulevard
Burlingame, CA 94010
distributes and supports a wide range of telemanagement systems for LANs, PCs and
reports and alarm, auto rate table updates, authorization codes, roving extensions, call
processing, dialing templates, call processing rules, eight report libraries by function