Todays call centers are faced with new business dynamics brought about by new
technologies, multiple communication channels and consumer expectations � all of which
literally demand call center change and adaptation. In light of this, it is crucial for
call centers to be able to accurately predict required service levels and use agents as
efficiently as possible without overburdening them.
There are many products on the market designed primarily as scheduling tools, some even
offering forecasting capabilities. However, these products usually base their forecasting
data on averages, which may not be accurate enough for your business requirements.
Arena Call Center Edition 3.5 from Systems Modeling Corporation complements a
companys existing scheduling software packages by offering a complete event
simulator, which is reality-driven instead of average-driven. (Note that while the product
is intended to extend the capabilities of a workforce management system, it may be used as
a stand-alone product if monetary resources are limited and you do not require advanced
scheduling techniques.) The software focuses on simulating realistic scenarios for a
specific business through scripts and animations and determines the workforce required for
that particular scenario.
Arena Call Center Edition 3.5 actually consists of two products from Systems Modeling
Corporation: Arena and CallSim. The company plans to incorporate the two products into one
seamless package in the next version (Edition 4.0), but the product we reviewed did not
have this advantage.
Before the software for Arena Call Center could be installed, we needed to add a
blue software protection key to the LPT1 (printer) port to allow for full functionality of
the product. For the computer we used (a Windows NT workstation), this is all we needed to
do. However, if you have a printer connected to the protection key, the printer must be
turned on when you want to use Arena Call Center Edition 3.5.
Next, we installed Arena followed by CallSim. While this was a relatively painless
process, the more seamless integration between Arena and CallSim that is slated for the
next version of Arena Call Center would be preferable.
The documentation for Arena Call Center Edition 3.5 consists of installation
instructions printed on a few pieces of paper and three manuals: CallSim Users
Guide, Arena Users Guide and Arena Variables Guide. While none of these guides is
very lengthy, they are very wordy. Although they provide a good sense of the product, some
careful editing would make these manuals much easier to read.
The products help files are more concise than the manuals and are fully updated
(the manuals have a few sections that are not fully updated). The help files are also
The major features of Arena Call Center Edition 3.5 include:
- The ability to design and validate call routing scripts with 10 simple building blocks,
which include queue for agent, message, wait and go-to actions.
- Determination of the impact of new customer access channels.
- Help in understanding, predicting and planning for the future performance of your
business with reports, graphs and animations.
- Help for making better decisions about service levels, agent scheduling, customer
abandonment and other performance issues.
- Skills-based routing with simultaneous queuing, preference and agent skill priority
Arena Call Center uses Windows conventions to combine elements of different
applications. For example, the main interface for CallSim is reminiscent of Windows
Explorer and Microsoft PowerPoint, and the script layout appears as a graphical-based
application generator. By clicking the CallSim tab on the left side of the screen, a list
of eight modules is displayed: the configuration, schedule, call, call pattern, script,
agent, animate and report modules. These modules are the building blocks for creating the
There is also a different tab to delineate the script by allowing 10
actions to be used like an app-gen, including the queue to agent, wait and
message actions. To form a script, you simply connect the appropriate actions you need and
set the properties of each action. While two appropriate blocks will connect automatically
with each other, there is one peculiarity about this app-gen-like building structure. You
can actually move the arrow associated with a block anywhere on the screen, and when you
place the next block, a line will automatically connect to wherever the arrow happens to
be. This could be a bug, but it could also be a method of separating the script to allow
for a better presentation of the simulation model.
Setting up the CallSim building blocks to create a scenario is not a difficult process.
After dragging and dropping a module to the right side of the screen, you double click the
block and enter the information you need. For example, you can double click the
configuration module, enter the simulation name and click the add button to enter your
trunk definitions. For Arena Call Center, any acquired field (where data must be entered)
is dark-colored, whereas any suggested field (where it is recommended but not mandatory
for data to be entered) is white. You can change the color of these fields if you wish.
Also in the configuration module is the planning horizon, which tells the time period
being examined for that particular simulation model, and advanced functionality, such as
entering the maximum number of agent groups.
Using similar procedures, the other modules give you additional capabilities so you can
better plan, predict and improve your business for the future. Animations, reports and
graphs give you additional perspective. After or while you complete the scenario you are
working on, you can zoom in and out to better visualize the model. You can also run the
simulation through a single-step process to ensure your model is working properly. This
works like a regular recorder with the single-step process employed, but with a rewind
button mysteriously missing.
Room For Improvement
Most of the criticism of Arena Call Center Edition 3.5 lies in the lack of
integration between CallSim and Arena. Improvements need to be made in the documentation
and software in order to integrate Arena and CallSim successfully. The two software
packages should be installed and used as one product with CallSim working within
the Arena umbrella. Thankfully, the next version of Call Center Arena (Edition 4.0) will
be almost fully devoted to this integration, so there is no need to harp on the subject.
There are other small suggestions we think would add value to Arena Call Center. The
ability to double-click to view each module from the left side would enable you to view
and add particulars without actually dragging and dropping the icon to the presentation
side of the screen. In this way, if you want, you can set up a module without committing
it to the actual model. Another valuable addition would be the ability for right-click
functionality when you are in a modules dialog box so it would be easy to access some of
the key features of that module. Additional and slightly better graphics would also be
nice for the animate module. Finally, a rewind button would allow you to back up a model
in case you want to review an aspect of the scenario, but do not need to start over.
Arena Call Center is a well-conceived simulation product that can help
administrators predict and plan for the future of their business. It has the functionality
to operate on its own, but works better as an addition to a scheduling tool. It provides
an intuitive and easy-to-use set of interfaces, which allows administrators to employ this
product with much success. Even though it could and likely will be improved in Edition
4.0, Arena Call Center Edition 3.5 still has a sound product base and a vast set of
features, thereby deserving our Editors Choice Award.