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Rich Tehrani

Deconstructing The Call Center

By: Rich Tehrani, Group Editor-in-Chief,
Technology Marketing Corporation


From where I stand here at the beginning of 2006, I see a slew of new and existing Web standards slowly being woven together to more tightly cement data flows between disparate vendors such as multiple outsourcers or home agents. Call centers are rapidly being deconstructed and integrated in news ways in order to enable companies to more rapidly integrate their organizations and data in a multisourced world. Following are some examples of this trend.

The Moth That Changed Everything
Approximately five years ago, I ran into Prem Upaluru, an enthusiastic visionary who at that time told me about all the next-generation things his company, Telera, was doing for customers. When I heard what the company was up to, I wrote an article called 'Survival of Your Species' (www.tmcnet.com/223.1) explaining how Telera is a company specifically adapted to the Internet age. I used a story about the moth population in the UK to support my argument for adaptation and survival of the fittest.

You see, just prior to the industrial revolution, a certain species of off-white moth flourished in Birmingham, England due to its exceptional camouflage abilities, which allowed it to blend in with the surrounding vegetation. Once large amounts of carbon-based emissions were released into the air, the trees where the moths lived became black with soot.

It just so happened that about one percent of the moths were born black naturally. Prior to the industrial revolution, this was not a favorable trait. After the revolution, the black moths flourished on the black trees, and the lighter moths were picked off by predators. Once the pollutants were reduced from the air and the trees reverted to their pre-industrial-era state, the moths began to turn off-white again. The entire moth population changed from off-white to black and then back again.

In the article, I stated that Telera was the first 'black moth' of call center technology in the Internet Age. The company billed itself as a business communications ASP, and they were one of the first companies to adapt their technology to help call centers take advantage of the inherent flexibility of the Internet. Telera's service was standards-based and ushered in a new era of services performing tasks that standalone equipment of the time was just not able to handle.

Fast-forward to the third quarter of 2005, when I received a call from Prem telling me he had something new to show me. I knew that Genesys had purchased Telera a few years back, and I was wondering what Prem was up to.

I was pretty excited to hear that he has started a new company called Transera (www.transerainc.com), (news - alerts) which sells global, on-demand IP contact center solutions. On the surface, the idea didn't seem so radical as it sounded five years ago and, in fact, the new service sounded similar to the old one. I was eager to hear what was new and what the differentiators of this new company might be.

Transera claims to be the only company in the call center market with a technology platform developed expressly for multisourced call centers. Their global Midpoint Call Management platform makes it possible for enterprises and their outsourcers to connect and collaborate to efficiently and cost-effectively manage disparate call centers. The technology can also be applied to home agents or multiple geographically distributed corporate centers.

The service allows you to match calls to available capacity for any call and any agent, regardless of location or technology infrastructure, without the need to reconfigure the various call center platforms. The goal is to allow customers of the service to react immediately to changing business conditions and adapt global call management strategies in real-time.

The company provides a browser-based dashboard and a service management portal, enabling enterprises and outsourcers to collaborate on call distribution strategies and service-level optimization. The service management portal provides access to statistical data, historical reporting, call monitoring and recording across heterogeneous call center operations. Generally speaking, more visibility means more service-level optimization and better customer care.

Callers are matched with best available agents through Transera's intelligent call control gateway that performs call management functions, including routing, queuing, conferencing and transferring of callers, regardless of location or technology infrastructure. Call distribution strategies can be modified centrally without the need to reconfigure each call center platform.

Transera is an advocate of open standards such as SIP, (define - news - alerts) XML, CCXML, VoiceXML and SOAP (see definitions in sidebar) while interconnecting with off-the-shelf components such as media gateways, media servers and PBXs. Application functionality for intelligent call routing, workforce management, outbound dialing, IVR and business intelligence solutions is extended across disparate call center operations.

The service is based on an architecture the company calls Seratel, collaborative call management software. It is designed to be fault-tolerant, standards-based and able to connect multiple workgroups and corporations seamlessly together as they provide service to customers.

The network infrastructure represents the TDM and IP media paths within a voice network. Included in this layer are standards-based soft switches, media gateways, media servers, call servers and connectivity with voice trunks. Whether these networks are private and owned by the enterprise, or are shared resources owned and operated by a communications carrier, Seratel directly interfaces with these components to provide end-to-end call management across multisourced sites. Seratel delivers Midpoint Call Management, which enables Transera to remain in the midpoint of the call, and provide end-to-end call management throughout the life of the call.

Seratel uses these network components to perform global call center functionality, including call queuing, dynamic call treatments, routing, quality monitoring, recording, managed transfers, announcements and multi-party conferencing.

Seratel uses SIP signaling from network components like media gateways in the customer's or service provider's infrastructure to set up and manage calls, and supports both TDM and IP. The Call Control Gateway operates as a back-to-back SIP user agent, exerts third-party control to the Media Gateway, and receives CCXML-based call handling instructions from the Application Services Layer. Call, network and agent events are passed to the Application Services Layer as CCXML events.

The Application Services Layer delivers call center functions, including queuing, routing, quality monitoring and reporting. Real-time control of these services is enabled through a management portal within the data and user access layers. Role-based access is delivered through a Web-browser interface that is accessible from anywhere. Call and agent events are passed to the data and user access layers using Web services SOAP and XML.

Leveraging the data and user access layers, users can view and act on all real-time operations. In addition, users have access to real-time and historical reporting that is normalized across all sites, geographies, groups and call center technologies, including captive and outsourced agents. Third-party applications, including call center CTI, workforce management and business intelligence can be extended across multisourced call center operations through a standard information server and an open XML query generator.

The service can be used by a company such as Dell, for example, to use key performance indicators to compare the performance of various outsourcers to ensure that the desired metrics are being met. In addition, they would be able to see which outsourcer is most efficient and has the fastest call resolution times.

One of Transera's customers, Allegiant Air, was able to use the system to immediately spot that the abandon rate was high in one of their centers. This was attributed to long queues, and subsequently it became obvious that the center needed to shorten its wrap times. What is intriguing in this example is the person making the discovery was not a call center manager but Maurice Gallagher, the president and CEO of the company. The Web interface allowed Mr. Gallagher to easily see the status of the centers, and subsequently he discovered the need for change himself.

You may be wondering if I think Transera is yet another black moth. My answer is: not quite, but they are onto something big. There is a tremendous need to be able to interconnect the massive amounts of information in corporate databases and, moreover, connect disparate organizations in a more seamless fashion. The future of communications must involve more rapid dissemination of data and more effective use of technology to enable decision making.

These are some of the concepts being addressed by the Web 2.0 revolution. The next generation of online applications and services are destined to be more interconnected and seamless. Why should the call center be any different?

This is where Transera fits in. If the company helps corporations more easily share customer data and makes managing customers in disparate centers more effective, then perhaps the best description of the company's business is that they enable next-generation customer contact centers to flourish. Sure, this tagline isn't visually striking like black moth, but with all the talk these days about evolution versus intelligent design, perhaps this less controversial description will help us focus on what the company does. It helps you help your customers more effectively. CIS


SIP or Session Initiation Protocol. This is the most common VoIP signaling protocol and it allows the integration of presence and multimedia communications for seamless communications. Using a SIP address, you can terminate a VoIP call as easily as you send an e-mail or an instant message. The interest in SIP is growing so quickly that TMC has launched SIP Magazine (www.sipmag.com) this month, a publication focusing on educating buyers of SIP products and services.

XML or Extensible Markup Language
. This is a general purpose language allowing data to be transported across applications and data systems. Special purpose markup languages are built on top of XML such as RSS, MathML and MusicXML. Many of the feeds that flow into TMC's online portal, TMCnet, are fed to us via XML.

CCXML and VoiceXML
. The former is an XML-based language providing telephony-based call control for VoiceXML, a language allowing the building of voice-based applications with speech recognition and text-to-speech properties. SOAP is a protocol for exchanging XML-based messages over a computer network, normally using HTTP. SOAP forms the foundation layer of the Web services stack, providing a basic messaging framework that more abstract layers can build on. SOAP facilitates the Service-Oriented Architectural pattern. There are several different types of messaging patterns in SOAP, the most common being the Remote Procedure Call (RPC) pattern, where one network node (the client) sends a request message to another node (the server), and the server immediately sends a response message to the client.


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