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Unified Communications
Featured Article
UC Mag
Paula Bernier
Executive Editor,

IP Communications Magazines

The Heart of the Call Center

Yours Truly has long pointed out how unified communications functions were actually born in the contact centers of the 1990s. Back in the days of what was then called "computer telephony" or "CTI," contact centers were the place where real money was to be made, and so it was easier to justify the deployment of any new technology there, so long as it promised to increase productivity and, hence, greater revenues.


After about 10 to 15 years of Moore's Law, along with the coming of VoIP and cheap broadband, previously super high-tech telecom functionality, the enterprise as a whole is becoming a contact center. The "agent state" of the old contact center is now the "presence status" of the average employee. Or, as industry pundit Blair Pleasant said way back in 1998, our destiny is to work in organizations that are "call centers without walls." Contact centers systems are beginning to integrate and interoperate with everything else, both in terms of communications and the back office.


One Big Family


Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, an Alcatel-Lucent company, is known for its products that can tie together disparate contact centers into an integrated, virtual contact center, and enable customers to interact with such centers in any way they prefer: phone, e-mail, Web chat, IM and even video calls.


Genesys' new UC Connect is a software suite that enables interoperation of Genesys customer interaction management technology not just with Alcatel-Lucent's MyInstant Communicator, but also IBM SameTime, Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Siemens OpenScape. The UC Connect suite can increase productivity through providing "collaborative customer care" based on leveraging presence information such as "agent state" to determine the availability of remote information workers, branch-based experts and various back-office employees.


Genesys UC Connect does this by initially "subscribing" to the presence capabilities provided by various UC platforms to determine the availability of "enterprise resources" such as experts and back/branch office workers, and then mapping that presence to "agent-state," an indicator of an agent's real-time availability to accept interactions. Thus, contact center agents can see the status and skill set of experts and/or branch office employees, then click a button to contact the most appropriate person via a pre-selected communications type (such as chat, IM or phone). Rather than displaying available enterprise resources to contact center agents by name, the Genesys CIM platform abstracts these resources' identities into skill sets and provides an aggregated view of their UC presence relative to the availability of the entire skill set pool. This prevents agents from becoming overly dependent upon any particular expert.


Jerome Saint-Mark, senior product manager, at Genesys Telecommunications Labs, explains, "SIP and IP solutions have been at the heart of genesis solutions for years. We've been implementing many applications in the contact center relating to all of the new IP-based services. By that, I don't mean solely voice, but also the emergence of video services, presence, instant messaging and so on. The functions in the contact center may not be called ‘unified communications', but these concepts of distribution and presence existed for many years, and so with the addition and evolution of voice and video-over-IP these functions encompass more of the company."


"Genesys Enterprise Telephony Software was our first foray into UC in a proper sense," says Kraeutler. "Of course, as we've said, many of the UC features existed in the contact center for quite some time. We developed GETS in partnership with Microsoft as the first telephony integration into what was then LCS and is now OCS, the Office Communications Server. So, GETS was basically the first product to telephony-enable LCS, which comprises all of the fun click-to-call features that you've seen, and the screen pops and such, were enabled by Genesys relative to the desk-connected PBX phone. We brought to the table our ability to provide a consistent set of functions across just about any telephony infrastructure."


"Our T-server library is quite extensive," says Kraeutler, "and Genesys supports basically every leading PBX on the market. This is the main reason Microsoft came to Genesys and why we worked on this partnership as the first vendor to fully-enable LCS and then OCS. Microsoft then deployed the product to 50,000 seats in Redmond, Wash., which was followed by our case study at www.genesyslab.com/gets."


"Over the past two years, Jerome Saint-Mark and I have been working on taking the next step," says Kraeutler. "Whereas GETS was really a product designed to telephony-enable LCS/OCS for enterprise workers, what we've been working on is to find a way to use what we've learned with GETS along with our capabilities developed in that area to provide a full-featured link between the contact center and the enterprise. That's what our UC-Connect product is all about."


Posterity-Over-IP with SIP Print


Growing regulatory requirements - the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act - now compel many businesses and their contact centers to record phone calls for an undisputable record of transactions. Some organizations simply record customer interactions with call center employees anyway to limit legal liability, or to analyze agent performance and increase customer satisfaction by evaluating and improving the effectiveness of customer service policies.


For today's session initiation Protocol, known as SIP, IP and UC-enabled contact centers, SIP Print has refined single- and multi-site VoIP call recording solutions for SMBs, large enterprises and government installations with 15-200 recorded seats per location. Because SIP Print's on-premise appliance "understands" the SIP call control signaling protocol at the communications system level, SIP Print's platform can also record advanced functions like voicemail or "follow-me" calls forwarded to mobile phones or off-premise phone numbers. To stay on top of industry developments and compliance issues, SIP Print is an active member of the SIP Forum.


SIP Print voice recording systems, with their hassle-free installation, straightforward maintenance and simple operation, are compatible with mainstream VoIP phone systems and hybrid systems including 3Com, Allworx, Aastralink, Altigen, Avaya IP Office, Avaya Distributed Office, Cisco, Epygi, Fonality, Grandstream, Mitel, NEC 8100, NEC 8300, Nortel, ShoreTel, Toshiba and Zultys.


In the open source telephony world, OrecX, another provider of VoIP call recording, and Digium, the company that brought you the Asterisk open source IP PBX, have partnered since 2007, bringing OrecX's support to Asterisk Business Edition, the professional version of Asterisk, used by SMBs worldwide. OrecX's Oreka TR is an operating system and database-agnostic application that records, stores and retrieves call center interactions using a web browser interface. Oreka QM is a contact center monitoring software solution that empowers contact center agents, managers and executives with actionable, targeted information to drive real-time, multi-level performance improvements.


And Speaking of Open Source…


Open source telephony such as Digium's Asterisk is a natural candidate for SMB contact centers, given their cost-effectiveness. Early in 2009, Braxtel Communications, a provider of comprehensive customer contact solutions, announced it had become Digium Software Partner and was now offering its open source Contact Q contact center solution to SMBs via Digium`s huge base of channel partners. Braxtel created the Contact Q contact center software by building on experience gained from developing its established offering, the Fluency Communications Suite.


Aside from its advanced contact center software, Braxtel delivers installation and support services to its business partners worldwide. The company has over 12 years of experience implementing automated call distributor, interactive voice response, call recording and dialer applications and has long worked with traditional PBX vendors such as Avaya, Cisco and Nortel.


All the Bells and Whistles


One long-time, popular contact center system for the enterprise that successfully tacked the coming of IP early on is the customer interaction center from Interactive Intelligence. An all-in-one application suite to manage all contact center interactions on one platform architected for SIP and VoIP, CIC's contact center applications and PBX/ IP PBX call processing, voicemail, fax server and unified messaging capabilities extend throughout the enterprise so that business users, agents and managers can all connect to each other, thus enhancing levels of productivity, performance and customer service.


CIC's capabilities encompass IP PBX/PBX functions, an ACD with built-in multi-channel queuing; speech-enabled interactive voice response; recording, scoring and quality monitoring; outbound campaign management; customer self-service and eService automation; workforce management; supervision and system monitoring; remote agent capabilities; and unified communications messaging and voicemail.


The customer interaction center can be used in contact centers with a staff ranging from 25 to 5,000 agents. It can be deployed as a premised-based or as a hosted communications-as-a-service UC solution. CIC can serve as a UC solution for multi-site deployments, and especially for fully SIP-supported VoIP system implementations.


Unified & Integrated Contact


Some companies such as Cisco simply include contact centers with their existing UC mindset. As time goes on, we'll all be more interested in what the functions are we can run at any location as opposed to associating any particular location with the functions themselves.


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