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May 16, 2006

How SIP is changing Computer-Telephony Integration

TMCnet Special Guest

Author: John Joseph, Vice President of Corporate Marketing, Envox Worldwide
Computer-telephony integration (CTI) is a lynchpin technology in advanced customer relationship management (CRM) environments. Long before Internet booksellers offered personalized self-service on the Web, CTI was one of the first technologies to enable companies to resolve customer issues in real time, and to personalize the interaction based on past history or insight into why the customer might be calling.
The ability to coordinate inbound voice calls with data from an IVR system or database, and then route the voice and data as a package to the right customer service agent, played a central role in making phone-based service cost effective for companies and convenient for callers. Over its 25-year history, CTI technology has had to evolve as the network environment has evolved. Now, networks are undergoing a significant change from TDM to voice over IP (VoIP) technology and CTI is evolving again.
Originally, CTI’s benefits came at a high cost, mainly in complexity and usually with a heavy price tag on the IT side. Older CTI deployments were based on proprietary (ACD/PBX-specific) technologies or APIs. They required extensive integration and maintenance, especially if CTI capabilities were needed in the multi-vendor environments common in most global enterprises. They were also difficult to scale in large, distributed environments. The costs were unavoidable, however, because the switching, routing and application functionality resided on closed, proprietary systems.
Today, the most commonly used method for deploying CTI functionality is to deploy specialized CTI servers that support both proprietary and standards-based CTI protocols, such as CSTA. These servers are compatible with many ACDs/PBXS and therefore eliminate a great deal of the pain of maintaining siloed vendor environments for enterprises, service providers, and systems integrators. With a standards-based CTI server, you can more easily support multi-vendor environments and reduce the cost and time associated with upgrading an ACD/PBX in your network. 
Now, VoIP technologies, in particular the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), are dramatically changing the way CTI is delivered, owing both to SIP’s functionality and its rapidly growing popularity. As SIP takes hold in enterprise and service provider networks, customer service organizations can take advantage of new architecture and next-generation CTI capabilities.
Within this new architecture the three primary CTI functions, call control, call routing with associated data and statistical analysis no longer need to be housed in a single server. These functions can be separated and blended with their like technologies from the data network to provide cost effective CTI capabilities that are widely available through the converged network, and based on internet technologies and standards.
In next generation networks, endpoints, applications and ACD/PBXs will all be SIP enabled. SIP proxy and application servers, which effectively take the place of dedicated CTI servers, will help provide routing and call control functionality. They will route requests to the user's current location, authenticate and authorize users for services, implement call control policies, and provide features to users.
All of the call routing and call control will now take place in a single IP network managed by the IT department, significantly reducing the maintenance and integration costs associated with CTI. Likewise, statistical analysis of customer service performance can leverage the existing data management tools used within an enterprise IT network and benefit from similar maintenance and integration cost savings. In addition, the endpoints of the data and voice transport will be identified as IP addresses, thus allowing for desktop applications to present a unified interface to the service agents.
In the future, customer service requirements will remain the same. Customers will require personalized and efficient service. But in the era of SIP-enabled customer service, as call routing, call control and analysis become more distributed, companies that implement the best routing schemes will be the biggest winners. And, while SIP and all-IP networks provide significant benefits, the transition to an all-IP network will take a number of years. During this transition period, as SIP makes it way into endpoints, applications and ACD/PBXs, CTI servers will need to support traditional and IP environments simultaneously to minimize the impact on the enterprise and service provider.
John Joseph is vice president of corporate marketing at Envox Worldwide, a voice solutions provider based in Westborough, Mass.

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