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August 1999

Arena Call Center
Edition 3.5

Systems Modeling
The Park Building
504 Beaver Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
P: 412-741-3727
F: 412-741-5635
Web site: http://www.sm.com

Price: $995 for Basic Edition
$18,000 for Standard Edition

Award logo

Installation: 4.5
Documentation: 4
Features: 4.5
GUI: 4.25
Overall: A-

Today’s 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 company’s 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 User’s Guide, Arena User’s 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 product’s 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 context sensitive.

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 components.

Operational Testing
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 simulations.

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.

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