When we think of small-to-mid-sized PC-PBXs, Artisoft and Altigen
typically come to mind. Both are fairly open platforms, especially the
Artisoft product, which uses Intel/Dialogic cards, whereas the Altigen
system uses its own proprietary hardware. TMC Labs has espoused the merits
of ï¿½openï¿½ PBX systems for over seven years, thus the Artisoft and Altigen
systems were two of our favorites. The benefits of using an open PC-based
system that uses industry standards are endless, including but not limited
to: more interoperability, less chance of obsolescence, easier upgrading,
and smoother introduction of new features.
Interactive Intelligence jumped on the PC-PBX bandwagon a little later
on, but by no means was their product any less impressive than the earlier
PC-PBX adopters. In fact, Interactive Intelligence took things a step
further and not only designed an open system, but they also included an
integrated application generator that made it easy for customers to
customize and change the way their PC-PBX functioned. They also bundled
advanced features that both PBXs and PC-PBXs did not have, or required
special add-ons, including VoIP, ACD, Web callback, chat, integrated fax
server, integrated e-mail, CTI functionality, and more. Called Customer
Interaction Center (CIC), it was for all intents and purposes the most
comprehensive and feature-rich PC-PBX system we had ever seen!
Unfortunately, CIC was targeted at medium to large-sized call centers and
was priced as such. Then Interactive Intelligence launched Enterprise
Interaction Center (EIC), a cost-effective solution targeted at
small-to-medium sized companies and offering an extensive feature-set that
nearly matches the CIC product. In fact, EIC is a derivative of the CIC
product with certain features stripped away. For instance, the application
generator is not included with EIC, although it does have a powerful
graphical user interface for configuring the auto-attendant/IVR.
Importantly, unlike some of its competitors, the EIC system is fully
SIP-compliant, which allows you to use any SIP-compliant phone device on
your desk, thus negating the need for an expensive digital phone. The EIC
platform also supports analog phones, though we believe the SIP phones offer
more power and flexibility. In addition, besides supporting VoIP extensions
via the SIP protocol, EIC can also support IP trunking to create tie-lines
between two office buildings.
This product has a centralized graphical administrative console to allow
organizations to control every site from a single screen and to perform
remote maintenance and diagnostics. It uses a well-organized tree hierarchal
structure that is very easy to navigate. Also, a Java-based supervisory
console provides a graphical ï¿½dashboardï¿½ view of any number of important
operational parameters such as call abandon rates, queue sizes, line
utilization, and much more. In addition to call recording/monitoring
capabilities, a supervisor can view in real time the screen of the agent
handling a call, as well as listen to the conversation simultaneously.
At the heart of the EIC system is the queue manager, which handles all
sorts of interactions, including telephone calls, faxes, e-mails, call-back
requests, Web text chat sessions, and VoIP calls. Importantly, all
interactions flow through the same skills-based routing engine and alert on
the same client-side interface, making it much easier to provide consistent
service to telephone and non-telephone customers.
To install or not install, that is the questionï¿½
Since EIC is not an end-user installed product, it was not necessary for
us to install the EIC system from scratch ourselves. However, we decided it
would be beneficial to resellers and VARs that will need to know how hard or
how easy it is to install such a comprehensive PBX platform. After all, what
good is the EIC system if VARs and resellers canï¿½t figure out how to install
it? Thus, we worked with one of Interactive Intelligenceï¿½s sales engineers
to install the system from scratch.
Before the product was even installed, Interactive Intelligence went to
great lengths to ï¿½dumb downï¿½ the installation process and put all of the
hard work at the ï¿½pre-installationï¿½ phase, before the system is even shipped
to the customer. This ensures a quick and easy cutover or installation when
the system arrives at the customer premises. Essentially, customers choose
their package and options, and answer a list of pre-defined questions. Their
answers go into an HTML form called a manifest. That information is captured
in an online form and sent to the hardware vendor for package selection and
Then the vendor sends the prepackaged EIC Server to the customer site,
and the partnerï¿½s technician runs the EIC Setup Assistant, importing any
information already in the manifest, which configures most of the major
items. That technician then sets up any remaining items.
EIC has extensive presence management that allows you to set where calls
are sent depending on your current presence status. For instance, if you are
out to lunch, send your calls to your assistant. You can manually set ï¿½My
Statusï¿½ and click ï¿½Untilï¿½ a certain date/time. When someone calls your
extension, the IVR will say ï¿½John Smith is in a training session until next
Tuesday at 3:00 pmï¿½ using the IVRï¿½s voice prompts. You can change the status
via the phone or the Interaction Client GUI. In addition, you can also camp
on a co-workerï¿½s phone if they are busy, and once the presence status
changes, you will be connected.
General Usability Observations
We liked the right-click functionality within EIC. We also liked how we
could customize the Interaction Client by adding additional tabs. When
transferring a call, you can type into the Caller Name field anything you
want, such as ï¿½Customer is irate,ï¿½ or ï¿½Offer him a 10% discount.ï¿½ EIC also
supports ï¿½hot desking,ï¿½ so you can log on at any desk (or even remotely via
VoIP) and receive your phone calls. In version 2.2, they added call waiting
and parking from a phone (before, you could only park from the Interaction
Client software). Also, Interaction Client can act as your SIP softphone
utilizing the audio from MSN Messenger.
We should mention that EIC extensively supports VoIP -- and not just
software-wise via SIP. EIC also supports hardware-based VoIP solutions
including AudioCodes hardware-based IP card with up to 120 stations on a
single board. They also support Intelï¿½s IP Media boards.
The Interaction Client essentially is a soft-phone on steroids. It does so
much more than just answer, put on hold, transfer, and conference calls.
Depending on your security rights, you can view queues, view the presence
status of users, view workgroups, reports, and more. Since we mentioned
security rights, we should point out that EIC has a very impressive
granularity when it comes to choosing which users can view or perform
certain actions. It also features speed dials and a corporate directory.
From the Interaction Client (as well as from the TUI) you can set up your
call forwarding or follow-me features.
The company in/out board (presence indicator) is very useful. Icons
graphically depict the userï¿½s current status information. Information may be
sorted by status description or user name, extension, etc. The system
administrator can configure company-specific status indicators as well. The
in/out status of users not only displays on the Interaction Client, but also
is spoken to callers or can be shown on the Web.
Voice Mail/E-mail Features
On the voice mail side, EIC uses TrueSpeech codec for 1.1kbps compression,
which is very good not only for minimal impact on the voice mail system
(including minimal voice mail storage impact), but also for streaming the
voice messages over the LAN, broadband, or even narrowband (dial-up). This
is great for remote workers that want to check their messages via the
Interaction Client without having to call the office. From the voice mail
system you can also check your e-mail using text-to-speech. Besides voice
mail, it is one of the few solutions offering an integrated fax server. It
also has a ï¿½one number voice and faxï¿½ feature due to its ability to
auto-detect fax tones.
Other important features include:
ï¿½ Supports account codes;
ï¿½ Can record all calls, nth calls, or user-selected call (on-demand);
ï¿½ Can integrate with Cisco CallManager server where the EIC provides
automated attendant, unified messaging, automatic call distribution and
interactive voice response from a single solution; and
ï¿½ You can assign skills to users or workgroups.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
With so many features, excellent customization, and a user-friendly
interface, we had a tough time finding any ï¿½room for improvementï¿½ areas.
However, we did come up with one. We would like a user selectable option
that will automatically change the presence status to ï¿½Away from Deskï¿½ if no
mouse/keyboard movement occurs for an extended period of time -- say 15
minutes. This could be set up to only occur during the work week and work
hours and only if the user has not overridden the presence status.
When employees ask their telecom manager if the phone system can do a
certain function, most of the time the telecom managerï¿½s answers are: ï¿½Noï¿½
or ï¿½Not without a costly upgrade,ï¿½ or ï¿½That would require a third-party
add-on solution that is not in the budget.ï¿½ Not so with Interactive
Intelligenceï¿½s EIC product; this product has more features than you can
shake a stick at. There wasnï¿½t a single feature that we could state was
missing from EIC. That, combined with the fact that this is an open system
that supports many standards including SIP, made EIC hard to beat. TMC Labs
was in awe of Interactive Intelligenceï¿½s EICï¿½s feature-set and in fact, we
envy those that have an EIC phone system in their office.
To The July 2003 Table Of Contents ]