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April 2000


Survival Of Your Species


Go Right To: Last Chance For Communications Solutions EXPO Spring 2000

Successful propagation of a species depends on the species ability to adapt to change and environmental pressures. Many successful species increase their odds of survival by producing huge batches of offspring and thus reducing the overall threat to any single individual. By producing many offspring with varying traits, a species does indeed increase its odds of success but success is often beyond the control of the species itself.

Believe it or not, prior to becoming a computer engineer, I thought I was going to be a medical doctor and sat through many biology classes that I thought I would need one day. During one class I remember learning about an example of species mutation, natural selection, and adaptation that took place near Birmingham, England, during the industrial revolution.

A certain species of peppered, off-white moth that was perfectly camouflaged on the trees which it lived flourished in the wooded environment of the time. But it was confronted by changes in the environment, which were brought on by large amounts of carbon smoke emanating from the nearby smokestacks. As luck would have it, one percent of the population of moths was black -- making an easy target for predators. As the carbon smoke increased, however, the trees in the area began to turn black, and soon the lighter colored moths that were once perfectly camouflaged found themselves in the precarious position of standing out sharply against the trees. Predators almost wiped out the light-colored moth population, while the black moth population increased dramatically.

The Internet has often been compared to the industrial revolution and if you view the Internets effect on communications companies, you quickly realize that many companies are doing their best to blend into an Internet age and the promise it holds for the future of communications. The Internet is a network that is flexible, economical, uses an open development platform (HTML/XML), and is customizable, allowing for one-to-one personalization. The telephone network, while more reliable than the Internet, still lacks most of the features mentioned above. Furthermore, the telephone network is costly; annually we spend 10 billion dollars on proprietary hardware and the management of it. Beyond that, we spend $18 billion on 800-number calls, while approximately 6 billion of those dollars are allocated to self-service and queue time. Not a very intelligent or productive way to spend corporate dollars.

If you imagine the ultimate effect of the Internet on corporate communications, you realize that there are many areas where the current communications models must evolve to provide us with capabilities far greater than we receive today.

Last year at CTI EXPO Fall 99 in Las Vegas (now Communications Solutions EXPO), I had a meeting with a company called Telera. Subsequently, I also met with key Telera executives, and they convinced me that this company will absolutely reshape the way corporations view their telecommunications networks.

As the Internet changes communications, I believe Telera is the first black mothof the Internet communications revolution, ready to blend in quite nicely in this new age. Few companies have such a compelling story and one that is so multi-faceted.

Telera considers themselves a business communications ASP, and they deliver services over what they call a nationwide intelligent communications network, which has been up and running since October of last year. Teleras network consists of hardware collocated in CLEC offices around the country connected by a highly secure IP-based VPN. Furthermore, control of this network is done through the use of XML, which allows designers to create their own customized tags allowing the definition, transmission, validation, and interpretation of data between applications and between organizations. Teleras target audiences are contact centers, e-commerce companies (dot-coms) and e-businesses (traditional companies embracing the Web).

Contact Centers
As I already mentioned, contact centers spend billions on 800-number services and proprietary equipment. Telera has equipment throughout the country, allowing them to process incoming calls at the edge of the network over their intelligent communications servers. When a customer calls an 800-number, the call is redirected to the local server at the nearest POP. The call is actually answered as a local call at this point by Teleras equipment at the networks edge.

Corporations communicate with Teleras servers over Teleras VPN using XML. While the caller is on hold or using IVR, Teleras customers never incur 800-number charges. The use of XML eliminates the need for proprietary IVR languages and equipment, and Telera feels that an XML programmer can start programming call center apps after only a day or so of training on their system.

Teleras services are not just limited to IVR applications: using their service eliminates the need for ACD hardware, voice mail, and dialer equipment as well. However, Telera does not provide software to monitor such things as agent states nor does it handle screen pops. For those functions it relies on solutions partners such as Cisco/GeoTel, Interactive Intelligence, and eLoyalty.

Where Telera shines is in its ability to bring the personalization of the Internet to contact centers. By integrating personalization software from Net Perceptions or E.piphany, you can customize each individual call as if it were a Web transaction. Another benefit is that developers can use the same programming logic, code, and data mining techniques to customize Web pages and phone calls so they are a perfect match for each customer.

This level of personalization, while taken for granted on the Web, is sorely absent on the telephone network and traditional IVR systems. Just think of the possibilities. For example, a brokerage house, once it identifies a customer, could determine what services that customer is most likely to request and organize the voice menu tree in the most efficient (and user friendly) way possible. Frequent options traders can always have options trading as their first menu choice, while stock traders could have trading stocks as their first choice. Customization also applies when your caller is on hold. If you know this customer is homeowner, you can let them know about a range of refinancing options.

To be fair, traditional network carriers allow customers access to the network cloud as well, but changes to scripting or prompts typically entail a provisioning process and this can take time. Carriers also have time restrictions in which corporations must send signaling instructions. Finally, these services are quite costly and incremental costs can quickly add up.

Since Telera is using their VPN and standard XML, command and control using their VPN is quite inexpensive and efficient. Ultimately, Teleras VPN will be capable of transmitting telephony, which means that no long-distance charge will be incurred from callers dialing on your 800 number. Teleras senior management assures me that the latency on their VPN should be no more than 100 ms, which is quite good. (Latency under 250 ms is considered adequate for good quality telephone calls.)

Since Teleras IP-based VPN will be capable of transmitting VoIP, their customers will be also able to take advantage of network redundancy. In case the PSTN has a connection problem, VoIP can be used to transmit calls. In case the VPN goes down between two points, Telera uses the same approach as many IP-PBX vendors. If a VPN link goes down, a call is placed from one POP to another and then conferenced. At this point, command and control proceeds to the connected POP over a good VPN link.

Telera refers to e-commerce as a dot-com companies and e-business as a traditional company embracing the Web. Many dot-coms are looking to provide Web content by phone. Examples include Yahoo, and even TMCs own TMCnet.com.

Once you have set up a personalized page on Yahoo, for example, Yahoo will want to be able to make this information available to you by phone as well. Telera is positioned to be able to allow Web information to easily be read or played to users because its multiple POPs are within local calling range of almost every user.
A user could set up their My Yahoo profile to give them a wake-up call every weekday and to read them the weather for the day, airport delays, sports scores, and a few news headlines. As many portals are looking to extend their presence into the enterprise, it will be possible to alert users of any urgent office voice mails. These types of services could be sponsored, so that the beginning of each call could mention the sponsor name and allow the user to press the pound sign at any time to connect to a company representative.

This type of service is quite a differentiator for traditional companies as well. I am a Hertz #1 Gold customer perhaps Hertz could call me the day before I am about to travel and ask me if I prefer a Ford or a Toyota. Airlines really should have a service that lets their customers know when a flight has been cancelled. Department stores can let you know when those leather shoes youve been eyeing are on sale.

Portals can also allow users to call in to access a myportalbyphone.com model. In this example, a user can press 1 to access their customized sports scores, 2 for news, and 3 could be a personalized portfolio. Most interesting of all is the ability to convert any audio on the Web to be played over the telephone. That means you could program buttons 3-6 to be radio stations located anywhere in the world. You could be driving in New York and listening to California college basketball, or even the audio portion of a TV show anywhere in the world.

Telera uses the above example to prove that they are truly opening up the telephone network. More specifically, they feel they give the enterprise the keys to the communications network. By this they mean that using existing Web-based development tools an enterprise can truly control telephone transactions in the same way they control Web pages. This paradigm can be extended to the customers of the enterprise or dot com as well. Since Web-based programming can alter the behavior of the telephone network, Teleras customers can allow their customers to have the same flexibility in controlling their interactions over the telephone.

Voice Mail
Although voice mail is perhaps the least glamorous of their capabilities, Telera can provide the service at a fraction of the cost of tradition voice mail services. Since voice mail can be accessed locally through any POP, callers are given 800 numbers for convenience. Since calls never see the 800 network, accessing voice mail does not increase 800-number usage.

As I write this column, the weather is just warming up here in rural Connecticut, and the first moth of the season just made it through my window and into the kitchen. As luck would have it, the moth was light in color. A few of my guests urgently requested that I kill the moth, which I did. I cant help but wonder if this is the fate that will befall communications companies that dont embrace the principles that Telera is advocating above. Id love your feedback. If you think that Telera is onto something, please e-mail me with Telera in the subject line at rtehrani@tmcnet.com.

Last Chance For Communications Solutions EXPO Spring 2000

The age of the Internet threatens companies with extinction if they dont constantly monitor their business models and strive to improve them. The only way to make sure your company is not left behind by the bewildering pace of technological innovations is to try and spot the trends shaping the landscape before it is too late. Twice a year, I call meetings with my entire editorial team and members of TMC Labs so that we can determine the most important communications technologies that we need to address at our Communications Solutions EXPO trade shows. Once we have made a short list of these ideas, we determine how best to educate attendees on these new technologies.

Our next show is to be held in Washington, D.C., April 26-28. This show has quickly become the de facto communications industry leader. Through a series of unique and free educational attractions on the exhibit hall floor and a comprehensive conference track, we ensure that a few days at Communications Solutions EXPO will teach you everything you need to know to prosper in the new world of Internet communications.

Here are some of the trends we see and how each trend directly translates into one or more attractions at Communications Solutions EXPO.

The Booming Service Provider And ASP Market
Since the Telecom Act of 1996 and the subsequent rise of Internet telephony, service providers have been enjoying incredible growth and new technologies that allow them to provide new services to their customers. Those customers purchase these new services to make themselves more productive and to eliminate the hassle of having to deal with CPE equipment. In order to help you understand the opportunities available for service providers and their customers alike, we present:

  • Next-Gen Telco In A Booth: Right on the show floor we have built an actual ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider) complete with profit-generating enhanced services.
  • Nortel Networks Succession Trailer: See the latest next-gen network technology from Nortel on display in a unique 40-foot tractor trailer, right on the show floor! (Sponsored by Nortel Networks.)
  • ASP Learning Center: Where you can discover the latest technologies you need to implement to become an ASP, as well as some of the hottest ASPs around showing you how they can help your company cut costs and become more efficient, all in an objective environment.

In addition to these exhibit hall attractions, we have devoted two leading edge conference tracks to next-generation service provider topics:

  • Next-Gen Service Provider Solutions: Everything a next-gen service provider needs to know.
  • Wireless Solutions: Touching on every important aspect of this burgeoning industry.

The Booming Wireless Market
As I mentioned previously, we will devote an entire conference track to the latest wireless communications trends. We will also have a Next-Gen Wireless Learning Center (get ready for I want my MTV on my broadband wireless watch). This attraction promises to be an incredible display of the latest wireless devices.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
TMC has been covering this field since 1982 and has the longest running magazine covering this topic: C@ll Center CRM Solutions. With the help of this team, we have come up with the following crucial attractions for your corporation:

  • Live CRM Showcase: In conjunction with Aspect Communications, an exhibit hall attraction that showcases the latest CRM solutions enabling you to manage any type of customer interaction in a consistent and highly flexible fashion.
  • Live, Web-Enabled Multimedia Call Center: In conjunction with CellIT, a live, on-site working call center employing the latest Web-enabling technologies and applications. At its previous outing this call center made over 11,000 customer contacts in two days.

In addition to these exhibit hall attractions above, we have devoted two leading edge conference tracks to CRM topics:

  • CRM Solutions: The ultimate conference track designed to inform you about crucial aspects of CRM and how it relates to your organization.
  • Call Center Solutions: The call center is e-commerces best ally since it provides a Web site with a human touch through Web call and chat technology. Find out how your call center can provide world-class sales and service as well as integration with your e-commerce strategy.
  • CRM Excellence Awards: For the first time, the editors of TMCs publications have put their heads together to pick the CRM products with the greatest contribution to the industry. The award winners will be announced at the show.

Internet Telephony
This field continues to be one of the fastest growing due to the immense interest in convergence being shown by the enterprise and service providers alike. Expect a pre-conference track and a conference track on this topic, as well as a display of ConvergeNET, the industrys largest group of disparate exhibitors demonstrating interoperability between their VoIP products. Also look for:

  • Internet Phone Center: Sponsored by Quicknet Technologies, all attendees to Communications Solutions EXPO Spring 2000 will be able to make FREE International phone calls at the show through the use of multimedia PCs using a variety of ITSPs so that you may compare the quality of their networks.
  • IP Telephony Testing Learning Center: Come see the tools you need to accurately test Internet telephony solutions prior to deployment.

There will be a learning center and pre-conference track on this topic so that you can see and learn about the technologies you need to effectively take advantage of this booming field.

It is exactly these types of attractions that have made Communications Solutions EXPO the only show you need to attend in the communications industry. Once again, we have shattered every pre-registered attendance record for Communications Solutions EXPO. We have also significantly increased the number of exhibitors, and the shows exhibit hall will be sold out by the time you read this. We couldnt be happier.

Although the exhibit hall price has doubled at the door to $50, if you register on the Web right now at www.tmcnet.com/comsolexpo, it will be free. I personally promise you that there is no better event than Communications Solutions EXPO to help you answer all of communications questions and needs.

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