Monday, August 25, 2014

Monthly Licensing Allows Flexibility on a Budget

When Indosoft first entered the telephony world, near the turn of the century, most of our deployments were small. Two-server predictive dialer or Do Not Call blockers ruled the day, and usually involved a lot of work to get integrated with the call center.  As a result, we had an inflexible pricing and payment policy, with the costs coming upfront.  Since those days, the IT and telephony world have undergone a dramatic change, as has our product line.  Over the last year Indosoft has experimented with monthly per-port pricing.  This option has been a hit with our clients, and is more frequently expected by new clients.  The widespread acceptance of on-demand pricing for hardware has led a push for on-demand pricing in other categories, and the software that runs on those servers is an ideal candidate.

Monthly per-port licensing makes good sense when:

* Your call center business seasonal
* Usage is expected to increase in the future
* Timing of demand is somewhat unpredictable long-term
* Opening a new call center and startup costs must be kept to a minimum

These are just a few examples.  Certainly others exist.

It is certainly possible to license the QSuite ACD platform to run on one's own hardware.  The advantages of having a per-month per-port licensing plan do align very nicely with the characteristics of the Cloud and on-demand hardware and services.  This allows one to set up a very minimal call center platform with a very small initial outlay, but to ramp up to many  seats very quickly when the business demands it.  With the ease of deploying the QSuite on the Cloud, you have one less thing to worry about.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cloud Offerings Simplify Call Center Deployment

One of the reasons Asterisk has taken such a large share of the telephony market is the ease of deploying it on commodity hardware with free, Open Source operating systems.  Commoditizing hardware and simplifying its deployment has been a key factor in the widespread adoption of the Cloud as a business concept. This makes the Cloud an ideal target for deployment of Asterisk-based contact center software.  However, requirements such as long-term storage of recordings or data have complicated the picture.  Once again, the Cloud offers a solution.  Services such as Amazon S3 provide a widely-available interface for the long-term storage of recordings while providing easy access when required. Amazon RDS, their database offering, puts the headache of tuning and configuring the database server back in the hands of Amazon. 

Contact centers who have moved to the Cloud are demanding long-term storage of recordings while demanding ready access in case calls need to be audited or verified.  Amazon's S3 libraries are available for a variety of platforms, and provide an easy way for the Indosoft Q-Suite contact center software to move recordings off the server while maintaining ready access through the familiar interface users have come to rely on.  A contact center no longer has to allocate large amounts of permanent storage to their Asterisk servers, nor does it need to endure the expense of maintaining storage capacity that has not yet been used.  Amazon is not alone in this, other providers also provide access to long-term storage with easy to use interfaces.

Among the benefits of Cloud-based contact center ACD is the ability to add and remove servers as required.  This does introduce the problem of correctly allocating resources to the database server.  Contact center software such as Q-Suite is highly reliant on a dependable, responsive database.  Adding users and servers increases the resources required, and often some tuning is required to determine the optimal configuration.  When hosting the database on its own server, this can require moving the data from instance to instance while the right processor and memory parameters are determined.  This can result in paying for a system that is over-powered in some regards or the risk of under-performance.  Amazon RDS provides the same database interface the contact center software expects, but in a more easily configurable way.  The availability of replication and redundancy options that can be configured through the provider, rather than at the server level, dramatically reduce the effort of implementing those options.   This makes the Cloud an even better choice for those demanding reliability and scalability while to save time and effort of deployment.

With so many providers offering commodity hardware via the Cloud, providers are forced to innovate in order to differentiate their offerings from the alternatives.  By leveraging their size and providing simple to use APIs for services like S3 and RDS, Amazon is staying ahead of the curve.  This is a boon to contact centers who can leverage Asterisk, the Cloud and Asterisk based contact center software to ease deployment and save money while meeting the requirements of their clients.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Speech Analytics not a substitute for broken business process

Speech Analytics is now being offered widely as a solution to improve quality of service through contact centers. The recorded conversations are analysed by a software to extract information relating to the product and service. It can also be used to determine service issues related to center agents.

It is almost a certainty that we have dealt with contact centers. In most cases, what we encounter is a broken process in the back-end with the contact center operation being used as a layer to brunt the effects of the broken process. The frustrations of having to deal with a broken process is immediately felt by the customer and the contact center employee. It takes a very persistent customer to escalate and get the attention from the higher-ups of the organization.

I am not suggesting that Speech Analytics does not have a role in contact center agent issues but there is a more obvious problem. With sales and marketing driven by the pressures of business, customer service, which is usually provided through contact center operations, bears the brunt of every broken process. The availability of Cloud contact center solutions makes it easier for organizations to quickly put up a layer between the customer and the real stake-holders within the organization, through an additional layer of abstraction, namely an out-sourced service provider. Therefore the organizations will require the additional tool to analyze the recordings to learn the obvious. A simpler approach is to collect feedback from the employees who are out in the trenches and identify the low hanging fruits to address. Training and better recruitment process is a way to address the remaining agent issues. 

Automation and adoption of newer technology is wonderful. Cloud contact center services will result in more sub-contracting and out-sourcing. Technology vendors for Speech Analytics will identify areas of application within the contact center operation to find value for the application in areas like determining product strategies. But agent customer interaction is a simpler issue where the cause of frustration can be identified without too much automation.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Evaluating Cloud Contact Center Solutions

Cloud contact center solutions are becoming mainstream and are rapidly gaining market-share. Telecom, Internet and infrastructure service providers are diversifying into contact center services to expand their portfolio by utilizing multi-tenant contact center software. Cloud based deployments offer contact center software and associated infrastructure as a service, catering to on-demand growth. Using Cloud contact center services, with minimum capital expense, it is possible to start a contact center operation as long as there is adequate network bandwidth and connectivity.

In today's global marketplace, contact center solutions form an integral part of the overall business work-flow. When choosing a cloud service for a contact center operation, it is important to consider the data integration requirements with the business back-end systems. Web Services offer a convenient method for the integration of business applications into the contact center software. With hosted call centers, such integration can pose network and security challenges that need to analyzed and addressed from the get go.

Having access to data and metrics of a contact center operation is essential. This is usually accomplished through Application Program Interfaces (API). It is vital to select a cloud contact service with exhaustive API to allow full access to all the operational data generated during the running of a call center service. Functions and method-oriented Web Services can also expose existing contact center management functionality to effectively integrate  Dialer and ACD management software to automate aspects of contact center operations.

Above all, the cloud contact center services should offer high reliability with redundant systems, setup in an High Availability (HA) mode. HA setup should be in place for a fault tolerant system that allows fail-over to hot standby. There should be mechanisms in place to monitor and make failover decisions.

Asterisk is the leading open source telephony engine. Cloud systems based on multi-tenant contact center software for Asterisk provide feature-rich solutions that are cost effective. They offer flexibility and power, due the the power of the underlying Asterisk telephony platform.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Email and Trouble-ticket integration for intelligent ACD routing

At Indosoft, we support a range of customers around the world, requiring different levels of technical assistance. Our customer support department is directly manned by experienced technical staff who do everything from installation, setup, feature development, and automation, to handling phone support. Supporting a contact center software gets complicated since VoIP is an important consideration. Typical data and information systems deal will data whereas a contact center solution deals with voice and data.

Even though a call center software is an independent software system, it works together with a sophisticated technology stack consisting of telephony, web, and database software systems. Therefore the supporting call center solutions is quite involved, and it requires a wide range of skill-sets. Voice systems also have more visibility and less tolerance for down times. Therefore issues received by the customer support require prioritization based on the severity of the issue.

Since we offer phone, email and trouble-ticket access for customer support, it is important that the technical support handles issues based on urgency without totally ignoring lower priority support requests. Interestingly enough, our call center software has a multi-channel ACD that can queue phone calls, emails, and web generated trouble tickets into the ACD queues. Any number of queues can be setup; queues have a priority level and a set of skills required to handle the calls or contacts. The ability to push phone calls, emails and web requests into a specific queue is controlled at the diaplan level using the Visual Call Flow Designer tool within the call center software. The tool also offers intelligent routing to determine the final destination based on other parameters like the CallerID, DNIS, pin or postal code (collected at the IVR level). The destination can be a queue, an extension, voice-mail or an external DID.

Trouble ticket systems allow email notifications that can be very effective for both customer communication and queuing. Email notifications generated when receiving a new issue or a customer update will automatically draw the attention of the technical support staff based on the call center ACD queue. Skills based routing governed by queue priority will ensure that all customer inquiries are addressed, just not the high priority issues. In large customer support operations, such an ACD will manage multiple Asterisk servers for handling phone support as well as queue e-mails from trouble-tickets and other web channels.

It has been a long road and the technical support staff are working hard to improve the quality of support. Things are getting better with smarter tracking and management, holding us accountable for open issues. We support very large multi-tenant contact centers with multiple Asterisk servers in clusters that present a fair degree of complexity to trouble-shoot. Since we have a very good High Availability system with monitoring tools that can swiftly identify any issue, we can recover automatically for mission critical operations.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Indosoft contact center software development evolution

As one of the early pioneers migrating our call center solution to Asterisk telephony, Indosoft sensed a shift in the market sentiment due to the gaining popularity of open source Linux. VoIP was still in its infancy in 2003 and only the very courageous were willing to venture into it for production systems. During the last decade, fast paced evolution of technology in many frontiers has worked in our favor, especially since we opted to build a contact center software from the ground up, for use with Asterisk. We also embarked on a multi-tenant software while sticking to the popular technology stack consisting of Asterisk, Linux, Apache and MySQL. Today, in the tenth year, Q-Suite 5.8  is a mature, multi-tenant,  Asterisk based call center software with high availability and fail-over. It caters to small, medium and large cloud driven installations scaling seamlessly with the growth requirements.

Along the way, a lot has changed and our product software development methodology has matured to accommodate the rigors of the communications industry. Contact center solutions have to fulfill the demands of a very mature industry, all out of the box. The expectations on feature and functionality are very high. Redundancy based on High availability (HA) and automatic fail-overs are standard. There is need to accommodate geographically distributed workforce while satisfying multi-tenant requirements. 

The contact center ACD is more powerful and versatile than ever. There are powerful tools within the call center software like the Visual Call-flow Builder that allow building Interactive Voice Responses (IVR) dynamically. Multi-channel integration with Email and Chat into Skills based routing allows efficient use of work-force.

At Indosoft, we are constantly striving to produce a better product that is feature rich, but not overly complicated. We try to take advantage of newer technologies to allow for better integration with a wider variety of external systems. We offer an intensive API for this.  Most importantly, we want to ensure the quality and usability of the product and support it well.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Managing your call center software technology stack

The economic impact of Linux and Asterisk are immeasurable. Contact center software built to run on top of this powerful technology stack can offer a greatly superior platform at considerable cost savings. Technology managers are starting to realize the benefits of Asterisk, a powerful hybrid PBX that can also serve as a media server and a protocol gateway. This VoIP switch runs on Linux, the dominant server operating system. For many years now, Linux has dispensed away the need for endless licensing costs enforced by the proprietary operating system software of the earlier decade. 

A Linux based infrastructure with Asterisk PBX requires a sophisticated contact center software with an ACD that is capable of clustering and scaling to multiple Asterisk servers. Like any sophisticated platform, this requires skilled technicians who are capable of managing the technology stack. This is an absolute requirement with managed services, where well trained, quick thinking, and knowledgeable technical team well versed in Asterisk, Linux, and call center software deployment, can quickly resolve problems. A perfect example is the entire 2.6.32 line of kernels for Ubuntu 10.04, when used in an environment requiring G729 transcoding. The presence of  artifacts  sounding like stuttering or wavy underwater type of muffling, impacted the quality of voice communications. In the words of Justin Traer, the Director of Support at Indosoft, "Identifying and resolving such problems are a difficult exercise especially when indicators like load and disk I/O are normal. Compiling a matrix of all the different working versions of Asterisk/Linux Kernel/Hardware will assist in identifying the common thread."

The example above makes a compelling case for organizations to seek managed service where a hosted provider with all the required skills will provide the services to keep the technology stack running. The demand for large and distributed contact center operations are increasing due to globalization. An Asterisk based contact center with a sophisticated call center ACD provided by a technically competent hosted service provider will result in considerable cost savings.