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callcen.GIF (10600 bytes)
June 1999


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 job done.

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 duration.

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 telecommunications system.
"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 software."

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 tools."

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 verified codes."

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 mobrien@tmcnet.com


An Overview Of Call Accounting Solution Providers

As 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 features available.


CALL ACCOUNTING VENDORS

Vendor Description Product(s) Sample Features Contact
CCS Telemanagement, Inc.

151 Superior Blvd.

Units 13 & 14

Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2L1

Develops, manufactures, markets and supports products and services for telecom management CDR-View, CDR-View Inline, Com-View, Pole-Star CS PBX/PABX/Centrex data collection, processing and storing, buffering, real-time analysis, transmission to single or multiple systems via voice or data networks, user-defined polling schedules, online display P: 905-564-6674

F: 905-564-6679

www.csstel.com

MDR Telemanagement

2381 Bristol Circle

Oakville, Ontario

L6H 5S9

Develops telecom resource management applications Venture Call Accounting (for SOHO) Collects, stores and processes call data from a three-line phone, reports on cost allocation, charge-backs and system administration P: 905-829-3317

F: 905-829-5606

www.venturephone.com

Mer Telemanagement Solutions, Inc.

200 Meadowlands Parkway, 2nd Floor

Secaucus, N.J. 07094

Designs, develops, markets and supports telelcom management solutions TABSweb, TABSalarm, TABS for Windows Browser-based, Windows-based call record collection, processing, report generation, automatic early fault notification, call data on Mer’s MS SQL servers P: 877-TABSWEB; 201-553-0777

F: 201-553-0799

www.tabsweb.com

MIND CTI

333 Sylvan Avenue

Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 07632

Develops telecom billing, accounting and management software iPhonEX Call collection, storage, analysis, reporting, compatible with voice/fax over IP vendors, inter-billing between providers, call management reports, query generator, report scheduler, fraud detection P: 201-569-6967

F: 201-569-7585

www.mind.co.il

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ONA Technologies, Inc.

PO Box 181

Kaysville, Utah 84037

Call accounting billing and tracking solutions provider BillingFX Custom definition of call detail records, user-defined SMDR record format importing and datastream layout, real-time data acquisition, document management, unlimited sub-accounts P: 801-544-7595

F: 801-544-0659

www.billingfx.com

Resource Software International, Ltd.

40 King Street West

Suite 300

Oshawa, Ontario L1H 1A4

Develops, manufactures, and distributes a complete line of CTI voice and data management solutions Shadow Suite 2000 A telecom management suite, including call accounting functions: traffic analysis, carrier cost comparisons, alarm notification, Internet usage, forced/verified account codes P: 905-576-4575

F: 905-576-4705

www.telecost.com

Revolution Software

220-19 Reservoir St.

Needham, Mass. 02494

Develops CTI and management software for the telcom industry Revolution Software Call Accounting Network, e-mail aware, 32-bit application and database, LAN user extension list browser, integrated site management, detail and summary reports, documents in HTML P: 781-449-2600

F: 781-453-2444

www.revsoftware.com

 

SAI

5005 Windplay Drive

El Dorado Hills, CA 95762

Telemanagement solution provider for large, multi-site enterprises with high call volumes Sierra Gold VTS Service Center outsources polling/archiving, call reporting, report processing, system backups, tariff updates, downloads reports to intranet server, Internet report distribution P: 800-775-0025

F: 916-939-4171

www.saitel.com

SmartUnit

22800 Savi Ranch Parkway #210

Yorba Linda, CA 92887

Developer of real-time, on-site call accounting, telephone billing, and telemanagement systems SmartUnit Call Accounting for Staff Calls Allocates 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 P: 714-998-0888

F: 714-998-9255

www.smartunit.com

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Softech Telecom International

Jefferson Office Park

Suite 202

790 Turnpike Street

North Andover, Mass. 01845

Develops PC-based software for the telecom industry Ringmaster 2000 32-bit 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 P: 978-691-5812

F: 978-691-5832

www.softech-telecom.com

TELS Corp.

705 East Main Street

American Fork, Utah 81003

Designs, builds, assembles, sells and services call accounting and other telecom systems WIN-SENSE Real-time call charge-back, supports 20 standard reports plus custom reports, toll fraud detection, automatic report scheduler, preconfigured PBX/key system formats P: 801-756-9606

F: 801-756-9135

www.telscorp.com

Trisys Telecom

215 Ridgedale Avenue

Florham Park, N.J. 07932

Manufacturer of call accounting software since 1984 Tapit/W, Remote Manager, V&H call pricing module Real-time data collection, supports all CDR/SMDR phone systems, call editing, auto report scheduler, numeric caller-ID reporting, client account/user authorization codes P: 973-360-2300

F: 973-360-2222

www.trisys.com

Telco Research Corp.

616 Marriott Drive

Nashville, Tenn. 37214

Supplier of network accounting products for data and telecom, including call detail records and costing TRU C@all Accountant, TRU RADIUS Accountant Predefined 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 P: 800-48TELCO

F: 615-231-6144

www.telcores.com

Veramark (formerly Moscom)

3750 Monroe Avenue

Pittsford, N.Y. 14534

Call accounting, network usage management, traffic analysis and enterprise telecom management systems and services Emerald CAS for Windows Single or 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 P: 716-381-6000

F: 716-381-6800

www.moscom.com

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Vodavi Technologies, Inc.
8300 East Raintree Drive

Scottsdale, Ariz. 85260

Provides voice/data/video convergence solutions for small to medium-sized businesses Callsort Pro 3.0 Supports 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 P: 602-443-6000

F: 602-483-0144

www.vodavi.com

Xiox Corp.

577 Airport Boulevard

Suite 700

Burlingame, CA 94010

Manufactures, distributes and supports a wide range of telemanagement systems for LANs, PCs and standalone hardware GBS For Windows Toll fraud reports and alarm, auto rate table updates, authorization codes, roving extensions, call processing, dialing templates, call processing rules, eight report libraries by function P: 650-375-8188

F: 650-342-1139

www.xiox.com







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