Making the Right Call

Call centers have a bright future with the help of computer telephony.

by / August 31, 1999 0
The promise of Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) is a system that enables a computer to act as a call center, accepting incoming calls and routing them to the appropriate device or person. Today's CTI systems are quite sophisticated and can handle all sorts or incoming and outgoing communications, including phone calls, faxes and Internet messages.
By triggering automatic database look-ups based on the inbound calling number, and by providing other customer-service benefits, CTI has become especially popular in call-center applications. As PBXs begin to support computer-based standards such as TAPI and TSAPI, their primary function is evolving into providing links to application processors or telephony servers. These in turn are beginning to assume the role of call control. Other CTI services include:

? ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) -- a specialized form of PBX used in call centers. Provides call queuing, different agent groups and managerial information all managed and administered by computer.

? IVR (Interactive Voice Response) -- used in telephony applications in which a user interacts with a computer by pressing touch-tone keys in response to a set of recorded choices. IVR systems are used for such things as creating automated banking statement services and providing train and movie schedules. Some IVR systems can also use a text-to-voice synthesizer to increase the repertoire of responses.

? Unified Messaging -- the integration of e-mail, voice mail and fax on the computer desktop.

Case Study

One local agency that turned to a CTI solution for its telephony needs is the Area Agency on Aging of Southeast Arkansas (AAASEA), a private not-for-profit agency providing an array of services to persons in a 10-county area of Southeast Arkansas. AAASEA has been a rural transportation provider -- providing transportation services for people in the Medicaid program who have no other means of transportation -- since 1993. In 1998, AAASEA was chosen by the Arkansas Department of Human Services to serve as a Medicaid transportation broker in Arkansas. "As a 'gatekeeper' of transportation services, we have to operate a call center," explained Nick Markel, AAASEA vice president of information systems. "Our call center has four dispatchers. It was to improve and facilitate the call center that we set out to select a CTI solution."

Part of the requirements for the contract included call-center specifications such as the ability to produce reports and the ability to monitor disconnects. The rural transportation program had used a small Panasonic key system, a multiline telephone system where incoming lines appear on multiple keys on the telephone set, with a four-line hardware call sequence. According to Markel, "within a month as a Medicaid broker, they had overloaded the tiny key system and hardware sequence with calls."

During its search for a replacement system, AAASEA contacted about a dozen CTI companies to gather information about their products. In particular AAASEA was interested in ACD capabilities and voice mail, preferably with e-mail integration. The organization also required the system to work in a Centrex environment since it was going to be a second-level system within the organization. It chose a system from AltiGen. As Markel explained, "We went with the AltiGen Open Edition 2.1 product because we wanted a system that we could purchase directly. We maintain a full-time computer and telephone department. We were not interested in involving an outside vendor. We also wanted a system that could integrate with our Microsoft Exchange e-mail server."

AAASEA built a rack mount, passive-backplane system with redundant power, a Pentium II-300MHz CPU, 128MB of RAM, and mirrored 4.3GB drives. "The AltiGen system has allowed us to more accurately control our incoming calls with its very versatile queuing capabilities," Markel said. "Our dispatchers are more productive because of the ease of use of the AltiGen system. Members of our dispatcher workgroup can use a standard Web browser to view the number of people waiting in a queue, how long they have been waiting and how many have dropped out. Reports can be generated to provide to the state."

So far, Markel said, AAASEA is very happy with its decision to move to a CTI solution. "Our average time on hold has decreased. Also, we are able to utilize the features within the AltiReach software to monitor and improve our average length of call, thereby reducing the time on hold and decreasing the average number of abandoned calls."

Now What?

Despite all the seemingly obvious benefits and advantages of CTI, widespread adoption has been slow. With decades of investment in PSTN telephony systems many organizations, particularly large enterprises, may be waiting for the technology and the market to mature. Furthermore, computer networks have not yet established the kind of track record for stability and uptime that most people expect -- and take for granted -- with telephony systems. Nonetheless, the digital world is here to stay and the migration of our telephony systems to a 100-percent digital environment appears to be a matter of when, not if.


Call Centers Enter the Information Age
By Kaveh Ghaemian | Products Editor

"Press one for call routing, two for digital voice mail ..."

Call centers are redefining the words "phone call" to include Internet relay chats, faxes and e-mails. The impact on enterprises is profound. Even users on the internet can establish a link with call-center agents over the Web. While new voice-over Internet systems develop, a variety of voice traffic management tools are now available.

Customer Service

Respond 5.0 is a customer-relationship management software allowing organizations to easily track, monitor and respond to customer inquiries and complaints.

Customer-service groups can quickly capture caller information and assign the inquiry to the appropriate departments and specialists. It provides a complete electronic audit trail from the time a call is answered until it is resolved. It is also integrated with the Internet so customers can address issues directly through an organization's Web site.

"Respond is helping us create a higher level of accountability to our citizens, ensuring that they aren't lost in the system," said Barry Key, manager of management and budget for the city of Roanoke, Va.

Respond is based on Lotus Notes R5 and is now certified on NT, OS/400, S/390 and AIX operating systems.

Additional information is available by contacting JPH International Inc. at 877/823-6574.


The Texas Department of Criminal Justice installed an Interactive Voice response (IVR) from Periphonics Corp. to support its Automated Victim Notification System (AVNS). Through AVNS, the state's 40,000 registered victims can use telephone to obtain inmate custody status information such as prison assignments and scheduled parole hearing dates. The system is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provides information in both English and Spanish.

AVNS is supported by a VPS/is 7500 system from Periphonics Corp. The system has a capacity of 24 ports -- 23 ports inbound victim notification application -- and is connected to NECNEAX switch and an IBM 9000 host. A special speech-recognition feature recognizes spoken digits, allowing callers with rotary phones to speak their PIN numbers.

Additional information is available by contacting Periphonics Corp. at 516/468-9591.


Talkworks PRO collects several communications programs into one integrated suite that includes all the components needed to automate a home or a small office. A wizard walks users through any of the tasks.

Winfax lets allows users to send and receive faxes, store incoming faxes, schedule outgoing faxes, and even process optical character recognition (OCR) files to turn images into text.

The answering machine allows users to create multiple mailboxes. Use prerecorded messages or record your own. Unlike a typical tape-based machine, you can review individual messages. Outgoing greetings can be scheduled so that a specific message plays only at predefined times, for instance, after work hours.

A phone dialer lets users put callers on hold (with music), store numbers for quick dialing, or use an book for storing names and numbers.

Additional information is available by contacting Symantec Corp.

TeleVantage 2.1

TeleVantage is an intelligent phone system designed specifically for small- to medium-size businesses and branch offices. According to the company, TeleVantage offers more functionality than a stand-alone Private Branch eXchange (PBX).

Combining the power of the desktop computer with the communications technology, TeleVantage's call management features help users to maximize their productivity while controlling costs.

It features graphical user interface, multi-line call control, full-featured voice mail, call and message screening, "follow me" call forwarding, e-mail integration and pager, voice-guided interface, call logging and reporting, multi-level auto attendant, graphical system administration and fault tolerance.

TeleVantage easily scales up to 144 extensions, ensuring that growing your business won't mean outgrowing your system.

Additional information is available by contacting Artisoft, Inc. at 617/354-0600.


Microsoft has become a principal member of the Enterprise Computer Telephony Forum, emphasizing the company's commitment to support open systems standards for CT applications.

Microsoft is making it easier for users to access e-mail, voice mail, and faxes from a common inbox. It makes it easier for businesses to link phone, voice mail, e-mail systems and fax machines and makes all types of messages accessible in a variety of ways, including through Web browsers, e-mail, personal digital assistants and phones.

Microsoft is planning to include a "unified message store" in the next release of its Exchange e-mail platform. The new Exchange server, code-named Platinum and in beta testing, will be able to connect to most standard-based voice-mail systems and more effectively store both voice mail and e-mail.

3Com NBX Product Solutions

The NBX 100 Communications System provides a feature-rich, cost-effective means for growing agencies to consolidate both voice and data on one network infrastructure, providing a single point of browser-based administration and management.

The NBX 100 delivers popular features such as a multiline business telephone set with caller ID, auto attendant, voice mail, LAN/WAN connectivity, and computer telephony integration (CTI) built into every reliable system.

The NBX 100 Communications System is a fully integrated voice and data solution offering all the functionality of the most advanced telephone systems, but operates over the same 10Base-T Ethernet cabling as most data networks, thereby eliminating the cost of installing and maintaining two separate cabling infrastructures for voice and data.

The NBX operates in shared 10Base-T Ethernet environments and is also compatible with Switched Ethernet and 100Base-T Ethernet networks. The NBX 100 does not depend on or even require PC servers or desktop PC clients. In fact, every PC on the network can stop functioning entirely and the NBX 100 will continue to provide reliable and full-functioning telephone communications.

Additional information is available by contacting 3Com.


JavaTel is a flexible new middleware platform for CTI enabling a multitude of new Java-based call center and customer management solutions.

JavaTel unlocks a whole new range of CTI applications by bringing the portability and platform independence of Java to Sun's computer-telephony platform.

Developed by Sun, IBM, Intel, Lucent, Nortel and Novell, the proposed JTAPI standard has brought interoperability to the many incompatible computer-telephony platforms by ensuring that all CTI applications written to its specifications will run on any JTAPI-based platform, such as JavaTel.

"The lack of an industry-wide standard for computer-telephony integration has led to the proliferation of several incompatible CTI platforms, locking users into a single-platform, proprietary solution" said Doug Ehrenreich, director of telecommunications and cable market development, Sun Microsystems Computer Company. "Based on JTAPI, which has quickly become the de facto standard of the CTI world, JavaTel levels the playing field for Sun, providing customers access to all Java-based computer telephony applications running on any Java-enabled device."

JavaTel runs on Sun's scalable line of Ultra Enterprise servers with the Solaris operating environment. JavaTel will run on top of the SunXTL platform, allowing companies to preserve their investments in SunXTL while deploying JTAPI-based CTI solutions. JavaTel is highly scalable and can be implemented on devices ranging from Sun's Ultra Enterprise 1 server up to Sun's high-end Ultra Enterprise 10000 system, providing mainframe-caliber performance.

Additional information is available by contacting Sun Microsystems.


IBM Computer Telephony Business Solutions deliver affordable, reliable, scalable, PC server-based telephone solutions for small businesses with 10 to 100 extensions. It's a completely integrated business communications system that can help businesses enhance customer service, reduce costs and boost staff productivity.

The solution consists of an IBM Netfinity Server, on-board telephony switching adapters, advanced call control and voicemail software, and optional Nortel/IBM analog phones all with a three-year limited warranty.

IBM's solutions combine the critical data communications capabilities of networked PCs with high quality voice- communications capabilities
of PBXs.

Features include:

? Desktop call control: offers caller-ID display, screen pop information, and a call-ontrol toolbar;

? Unified messaging makes accessing, retrieving and managing voice messages as efficient as working with email;

? Browser-based administration allows users to easily change greetings, distribution lists, transfer options and more;

? Links to customer databases provides a vital connection to the information you need instantly;

? Auto attendant allows you to schedule greetings and provides dial-by-name capability; and

? Add-on applications extend the solution to satisfy even the most challenging customer requirements.

Additional information is available by contacting IBM.

CallAudit Voice

CallAudit is a state-of-the-art caller-ID, fax, paging and voice-mail software. CallAudit Voice converts a PC to an answering machine, fax machine, alphanumeric pager, speaker phone, and caller-ID identifier.

CallAudit Voice is using the latest TAPI technology, to offer support for a broad range of voice devices.

CallAudit Voice features include custom greeting messages for each specific caller; Separate greeting message for blocked calls; send calls from selected callers directly to voice mail; call screening capability; remote message retrieval; support for distinctive ring; option to have all calls appear in Microsoft Exchange or other MAPI mail system; programmable mailbox actions and fax-on-demand; toll-saver feature; and call blocking without the entry of a valid caller access code,

Voice broadcasting: CallAudit Voice can dial a list of numbers and play a message to each caller. Further, CallAudit Voice can collect a response from that caller, an option to record incoming calls; an option to send answered calls directly to voice mail; import/export of WAV files, including drag and drop; and an Option to send alphanumeric/number pages based on incoming voice messages.

Additional information is available by contacting Mountain Systems Inc. at 540/ 676-2093.


John Stanard is a senior consultant with webworld studios, inc., a Northern Virginia-based Web application development company.