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November 1998


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PC-Based Solutions Help Small
Call Centers Stand Tall

BY RICH TEHRANI


PC-based solutions for small call centers will change the balance of power in call centers, just as PC servers enabled small companies to exceed the automation levels previously set by mainframe-equipped megacorporations. Never before in the call center industry has the right combination of processing power and open systems come together with support from multiple operating systems and board-level telephony component vendors.

While Novell's and AT&T's introduction of TSAPI allowed small call centers to connect their PBXs and ACDs to PC-based servers, today's integrated solutions go much further; typical PC-based call center solutions are now NT-based and adhere to open standards.

Moreover, open standards, such as ODBC and ActiveX, allow the latest generation of call center products to easily interoperate with other applications in your call center. When purchasing such an open system, it is not uncommon to keep the front end that your agents are currently trained on and integrate a new call center solution based on open standards into the application. The level of integration that is possible does vary, but it is amazing to see how well legacy and state-of-the-art systems can work together.

Buffalo International (www.predictivedialer.com or 914-747-8500) has been advocating open call center solutions for quite some time. While its products once focused on open predictive dialing, they have since evolved to encompass all call center functions.

Buffalo's latest offering is its Object Telephony Server, or OTS. This natural evolution of the open predictive dialer is powerful because it is based on open standards. OTS allows predictive dialing, while it also supports an ACD, IVR, fax and monitoring - all in one totally scalable, PC-based server. Lest you think that PC-based systems cannot grow with your company, Buffalo has informed me that their system scales to 288 lines and more. The system is based on board-level telephony components from Dialogic, which is continuously working on new ways to stuff more lines into a PC chassis. Open networking standards available in the PC world, such as ATM, will allow these servers to be chained together and thus eventually yield much higher capacities than even the largest established players. Moreover, by clustering together these chained servers, it is possible to have redundancy built into the server chain, reducing the chance your call center software will fail completely.

OTS, and indeed other PC-based solutions as well, can act as a PBX, making integration that much easier. Integrating the dialer and ACD into the same package also allows for effective call blending. OTS also allows the intelligent transferring of caller information from the IVR to various agents. I feel this feature is priceless, as it eliminates the need for agents to ask the caller for the same information every time a call transfer takes place.

Buffalo also provides the ability to develop ActiveX extensions known as OTS Extensions. Numerous extensions can be added together to develop a best-of-breed call center system. In addition, since Buffalo sells its products through resellers, it does not have the high overhead levels associated with maintaining a dedicated sales force in various offices worldwide. Of course this helps keep the costs low and makes Buffalo systems very competitive in small centers with limited budgets.

Another company in this space is Omega Systems (www.omega2010.com or 916-635-7590). Like Buffalo, Omega has its roots in predictive dialing and was at one time a big proponent of OS/2 Warp. Recently, Omega migrated to Windows NT, and its product has grown to include ACD and IVR functionality as well. Based on components from Dialogic, its product, VersaCom, is one of the few Common Object Model (COM)-based call center programs on the market. In COM notation, an object is a piece of compiled code that provides some service to the rest of the system. COM allows different objects to be interfaced seamlessly with one another, regardless of programming language or application.

VersaCom is an ActiveX-based program and as such can integrate with many other ActiveX programs on the market. ActiveX is a broad set of Internet technologies based on the COM object model. COM is what allows ActiveX objects to interoperate across networks (Intranets and the Internet). When COM is working across networks, it is called Distributed COM (DCOM). VersaCom uses a Web browser interface for its clients and the clients run on Windows NT Workstations. By adhering to ActiveX standards, VersaCom can link to other programs that also support ActiveX. An example would be allowing agents at a certain point in a script to bring up a Microsoft Access program and at another point, the script could bring up an accounting program or GoldMine or a fax server program or any other program the agent needs. Many Windows programs since 1996 are ActiveX-compliant and will likely link to VersaCom, but you can check with your software vendor ahead of time to learn if it is possible to upgrade.

VersaCom uses a GUI-based environment with drag-and-drop controls to program its IVR, simplifying IVR scripting. In addition, VersaCom allows call blending, taking into account agent talk time and slowing the predictive dialing as incoming call volume increases. Finally, because agent monitoring is browser-based, you can manage VersaCom remotely with any Web browser.

It's marvelous how advanced the latest generation of PC-based call center products have become. The feature lists are quite long and the integration level is state-of-the-art. As you can imagine, Omega and Buffalo are not the only two companies providing open PC-based solutions. There are countless others that will receive coverage in future issues - in fact, every call center vendor seems to have targeted the small call center, so it is impossible to list all of the options in this column. The latest PC-based call center products are a testament to the fact that open PC standards have rapidly migrated to the call center. Traditional limitations of call center technology are quickly eroding and new products with power and flexibility previously unavailable will allow call centers to run more efficiently with less maintenance and at a lower cost.

Sincerely yours,

Rich Tehrani
Group Publisher
rtehrani@tmcnet.com

 

TMC Labs: A Unique Distinction In The
Call Center Industry

For over 15 years I have avidly read magazines that focus on both the computer and telephony industries. There was a time when I was reading or reviewing 50 publications per month! As a MIS director, I had a great deal of purchasing authority heaped upon my shoulders, so I came to rely on magazines to help me make purchasing decisions. There was, however, a marked difference between the computer and telephony publications I read. For computer-related products, I could find plenty of information that I could trust. I could rely on computer publications for unbiased, noncommercial product reviews. However, many magazines in the telecommunications field lacked the integrity I felt the computer magazines had accrued.

The publications that gave me rock-solid advice were produced by respected publishing companies that had invested in a product-testing laboratory. The computer and networking magazines all had labs, while most telephony magazines would provide mainly roundups of products with information that could be readily found on a company's Web site. The telephony publications that did produce product reviews did not do so in an equitable manner. For example, one company that was reviewed would receive glowing praise while another would be omitted for no apparent reason. Something always seemed to be fishy about these reviews, so the industry as a whole had a tough time believing recommendations from these types of magazines.

Subsequently, when I needed to purchase products in the telephony field, I was forced to test a wide variety of products myself - wasting precious time and resources. Some years back it took six months for us to test three different fax server products internally. We gave up - we didn't like any of them - we wrote our own package. Think how amazing that is. Telephony and certainly computer-telephony products are orders of magnitudes more difficult to install and operate than the most complicated PC product. Yet, I could find 100-page reviews on various PCs in computer magazines, while in telephony magazines a unified messaging product would receive 3 paragraphs of glowing praise with nothing to back it up.

Consequently, I made it my priority for TMC to be the first to address this tremendous void in the telephony industry.

When we launched CTI magazine in 1996, I decided that this magazine would be the first ever to perform unbiased product reviews with the utmost attention to detail. This practice quickly expanded to both this publication and our newest publication, INTERNET TELEPHONY™.

Each and every review has the full integrity of a laboratory staffed by engineers who have nothing but the readers' best interests at heart. Only the highest level of integrity is used; our laboratory reviews are often rewritten by a team of editors to make sure the grammatical quality of our reviews matches the technical content and accuracy. More often than not, I also scrutinize each and every review you read in our magazines. Years of frustration in MIS taught me exactly what we needed to produce in every issue to help our valued readers make informed purchases.

It is this loyalty to you, the reader, that has allowed all TMC publications to be accepted as industry benchmarks. Our engineers stubbornly refuse to accept anything but perfection from themselves when they review products. They agonize over product literature, installation screens, documentation, etc., for countless hours, looking for errors, omissions and other problems that will make your life miserable as a reseller or purchaser of CTI products.

You will notice that TMC Labs has attracted so much attention from our readers that other publishing companies have decided to give the whole lab thing a whirl. We are flattered to see that others in the industry have decided that TMC Labs is something worth copying. As a reader, you must demand the utmost from the publications you read. Rest assured that all TMC publications will continue to evolve and provide you with the information you need to become more successful in your business. TMC publications will help you buy the right product the first time. We will continue to lead the pack.

TMC is committed to providing publications of the highest caliber and utmost quality. We are not a publishing company whose publications number in the hundreds - TMC produces only three magazines, and I am personally involved in their creation, ultimately aiming to read every page of every issue before you see it. This attention to detail can be likened to hand-made precision versus a cookie-cutter approach. TMC is one of the few remaining independent publishers in the telephony field. We take pride in our editorial and we continue to give you publications with information you can trust. Readers tell me they stake their careers on what they read in TMC publications.

We thank you for your continued loyalty. Furthermore, we appreciate every testimonial you send us. As you would expect, we are always trying to improve our publications. Some of our best improvements have been as a result of suggestions from our readers. We would love to hear what we can do to make your job even easier. I encourage you to always feel free to e-mail me at rtehrani@tmcnet.com on how we can improve our publications even further. A few minutes today can save you weeks of frustration in the future.

Sincerely yours,

Rich Tehrani
Group Publisher







Technology Marketing Corporation

2 Trap Falls Road Suite 106, Shelton, CT 06484 USA
Ph: +1-203-852-6800, 800-243-6002

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