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November 1999


PakNetX Corporation
Phone: 603-890-6616
Web Site: www.paknetx.com

Price: Server license: $10,000, up to 100 agents; Additional agents and CSTA license: contact PakNetX

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Installation: 4.5
Documentation: 4.5
Features: 5
Operational testing: 4.75
GUIs: 5
Overall: A-

In our October issue, we examined a Web call-through solution from CosmoCom. CosmoCom’s “Universe” product is Microsoft-centric and emphasizes features like URL pushing, text chat, call logging and end user transparency.

Taking a different approach to the same product category, PakNetX developed its PNX ACD. We reviewed the PNX ACD in its 1.1 version for the October 1998 issue of CTI´┐Ż magazine. Now, version 3.0 is available as the core product of PakNetX’s Internet Contact Center. Some of the new features include a much-improved online help system, easier installation process, increased customization options and a larger feature set.

Implementing a PNX ACD in your enterprise requires a large amount of planning, more so than with other kinds of applications. The most important planning issues are security and bandwidth requirements, both of which are addressable with software controls. (Fortunately, the installation/administration manual provides a good discussion of how to plan, create and isolate a firewall pass-through, and it also features an entire chapter devoted to bandwidth. For more information, see the Documentation section below.) Once you are past the planning stage, the next step is to properly configure your server(s) and agents’ computers, which must meet the following requirements:

PNX ACD Server and Web Server:

  • Windows NT Server 4.0, Service Pack 4
  • IIS 3.0 or newer
  • Pentium II (or equivalent) processor, 266 MHz or greater
  • 4GB hard disk
  • 128MB RAM
  • TCP/IP network connection
  • Client for Microsoft Networks
  • One or two 10 or 10/100MB network cards
  • Internet Explorer 4.0 or newer
  • Modem, for NT Remote Access support.

Call Center Administrator (if it’s a different PC than the ACD server):

  • NT server or workstation
  • Pentium-class processor, 200 MHz or greater with MMX
  • 64MB RAM
  • 10 or 10/100MB network cards
  • Internet Explorer 4.0 or newer
  • Client for Microsoft Networks
  • TCP/IP network connection.

Agent computers:

  • Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT workstation
  • Pentium-class processor, 200 MHz or greater
  • 32MB RAM for Windows 95 and 98, 64MB RAM for NT
  • 10/100MB network card
  • H.323-compliant Internet phone (Microsoft NetMeeting 3.0x or newer suggested)
  • Internet Explorer 3.02 or newer
  • NetMeeting-compatible video camera
  • Full-duplex sound card
  • Headset
  • DirectX drivers (5.x or greater for Win95/98; 3.x for WinNT).

After these computers are set up, the actual installation of the PNX software is simple. The main CD-ROM includes the software for the ACD, the call detail recording, the Web server files, media tools, etc. These components can be installed in several combinations, details of which are discussed in the installation manual. Installing this software also involves installing a hardware dongle, entering license codes and configuring basic network information. Installing the agents’ software is just as simple. Depending on the technical knowledge of your agents, some of them may even be able to configure their own clients once you’ve configured the basic accounts on the server. At the least, you can reserve the server installation for your more experienced MIS and Web staff, and yield the account and client set-ups to the less-experienced support staff.

The final portion of the PNX ACD installation is configuring your organization’s Web site. Basically, this requires adding just a few lines of code to your HTML source. (Older versions of this software required you to individually copy numerous files from the server CD to your Web server, but the new installation wizard automates this step.) Configuring the Web server also involves designing a “connect me” button and creating the appropriate chat or callback forms, but PakNetX support engineers are very helpful with this process. The choices for the actual connection software include an ActiveX control or an executable file that callers download locally. End users’ computers also must meet basic requirements, including:

  • Pentium processor, 90 MHz or newer
  • Microsoft NetMeeting 2.1 or newer
  • Internet Explorer 3.02 or newer, or Netscape 3.x or newer
  • Full-duplex sound card
  • 28.8 kbps or greater TCP/IP Internet connection
  • Speakers/microphone, or headset
  • DirectX drivers (5.x or greater for Win95/98; 3.x for WinNT.)

As we mentioned above, one of the biggest improvements from earlier versions of this software is its documentation. It’s gone from being mediocre to being superb. The online manual is very comprehensive, making good use of hyperlinks. It covers topics like getting started, linking with database software, using reporting features, etc. It also features a subsection for client help files, and the entire file is context-sensitive — pressing the F1 key at any time calls up related help. However, our favorite feature of the help files is that they actually discuss how the features work from an architectural angle, rather than just explaining how to use them. (This is a great tool for troubleshooting: most software vendors try to shield users from such information.) Even the company’s Web site is helpful, featuring a glossary of CTI terms. For installers, the nine-chapter printed manual answers most questions thoroughly. Overall, most of the areas where the previous version’s documentation disappointed us (there weren’t enough screen shots and the organization was quite poor) are greatly improved here.

The feature set of the PNX ACD is extensive. It begins with the administration program, from which you can access utilities, reporting features, database integration, etc. We tested this system for about a month, and although some features and concepts are complicated, we were very pleased with all of the interfaces. Unlike many other call center products that come through our laboratory, these interfaces don’t waste precious desktop space, and the menu organizations make sense.

Although it provides access to new features, the administration interface itself has not changed much since the program’s earlier versions. Seven main tabs provide access to general features (on/off, call center hours, licensing), agents and groups (create, edit, remove), statistics (dozens to choose from), system status (of both callers and agents and the system itself), messages (six customizable instances resulting in text, a URL push or a media stream), network properties (gateways, gatekeepers, etc.) and computer-telephony links (CSTA, 3CS, external ACDs). Of these tabs, the first five remain largely unchanged, but the network and CTI tabs are new. Gone is the “custom” tab from earlier versions.

The new Agent GUI yields many more features to the client compared to older versions. Whereas the old version had only two menu choices and a status bar, the new version has four menus, a toolbar, several icons and a detailed call status viewer.

The four new menus are File (change group log-on, wrap-up, change call center and exit), View (always on top, status bar, toolbar, group status and call information), Call (dial, hold, retrieve, toggle, transfer, transfer to queue, conference and conference mute) and Help. The toolbar provides identical choices to the Call menu.

Beneath these menus and the toolbar are several icons. On the left side are the Agent Status buttons, arranged from top to bottom as Available, Wrap-Up and Unavailable, with accompanying green, yellow and red indicators. On the right side is the call status screen for two simultaneous calls, and below this screen are toggle buttons for the toolbar, the group status chart and the call information screen.

The Call Detail Reporting feature is also new. This can be installed on any computer with administrative privileges. It provides exportable call records in .CSV format, each with multiple fields. These fields include Event (incoming call, call queued, etc.), CDR I.D. (a sequential I.D. assigned to every call, up to 999,999,999), start/end/total times, Caller IP Address, Caller Device I.D. (E.164 address if the call was from a PSTN/H.323 gateway), Caller Name (if available), Called IP Address, Call State, Called Name, Conferenced In Device I.D. Name, Call Context Data, Switch Name/ACD Name, Disconnect Reason (None, H.323 Normal, H.323 Abnormal, Call Center Closed, Queue Full, No Agent Logged In), Agent Group Device I.D./Name, Total Time On Hold, Audio Type (G.711, G.723, G.722, G.728), Video Type (H.261, H.263) and a T.120 column (yes/no).

Other new features of the PNX ACD include:

  • Client works on Windows 95, 98 and NT Workstation
  • Supports NetMeeting 3.0x
  • Web buttons are customizable
  • Agents log in to specific groups
  • Streaming media choices for on-hold queues, also by group
  • Version 3.1 (coming soon) offers IP-based transferring
  • Advanced wrap-up features
  • Agents are included in NT user tools
  • Advanced network handling can change streams as bandwidth deteriorates
  • Coming versions will also feature MGCP compatibility between gateways.

Operational Testing
We tested the PNX ACD for about a month. We tested the product in several different configurations, making calls from the Web to agents, between agents, etc. Some of the features we found to be most helpful were wrap-up, the CDR tool, caller IP tracking and multimedia-on-hold. Configuring and editing users is a simple NT process, rather than a separate PakNetX process, which is a tremendous time-saver. Configuring in-queue events involves making or acquiring an .AVI file and associating it with an action — PakNetX supplies basic .AVI creation tools, but more powerful tools are available on the CompUSA shelf. Our favorite new feature is the upgrade in options given to agents; previously, options were extremely limited. The complete, market version (soon to be released) is called the Internet Contact Center and features further improvements to the gateway/gatekeeper functionality.

For the process of actually implementing a system like this, the most tedious parts are intelligently organizing your agents into skill or region groups, training them, updating your Web site to reflect the new feature and making the end user experience foolproof. Mainstream Web users already have sufficient reason to fear application downloads from e-commerce sites, especially if the site is not as established a company as the famous Lands’ End example. You’ll also need to ensure that end users understand the difference between text chat and video chat, surfing and pushing, PSTN and IP telephony. In other words, this is a long way from market ubiquity, but it speaks volumes about a company that is able to do it right.

Room For Improvement
Although the help files and the online manual are exponentially superior to earlier versions, there still is not context-sensitive help — it’s only available in a few select places. We’d like to see a multimedia training program available for agents, and perhaps even the inclusion of automated help icons (like those in Microsoft Office) that offer agents advice as they perform new tasks for the first time. PakNetX could offer detailed templates for Web use (regarding teaching end users), although we are pleased with the simplicity of the overall Web integration and installation process.

We highly recommend this version of the PNX ACD. There are about a dozen companies making similar products, but PakNetX was (to our knowledge) the first company to integrate with PSTN ACDs and the first to make the technology available to smaller companies. We are impressed with the usability of every interface and with the shallow learning curve for the administration tool. Imple-menting this product in “real life” could obviously be a more difficult process than we experienced, because you’ll want to integrate with multiple databases and possibly an external ACD and other CTI applications. Implementation in a WAN environment would be another challenge. Still, PakNetX provides excellent technical support and solid documentation. We award this product our Editors’ Choice award for innovation.

An alternative to enterprise-end IP call-through solutions is service-based solutions. For an annual fee starting at $500, Net2Phone will sell you their "Click2Talk" service. Using this service, browsers can click the "talk" button on your organization's Web site, but the traffic is routed to a server under Net2Phone's control, and your agents receive call without your having to worry about administration and maintenance. As a result, end users have the same experience that CosmoCom and PakNetX offer, but the back-end is very different. For more information, visit www.click2talk.com or contact them via telephone or e-mail at 1-888-872-1230 or [email protected]

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