Consolidating Network Infrastructure Resources in Contact Centers

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1 White Paper Consolidating Network Infrastructure Resources in Contact Centers A tidal wave of IT and telecommunications convergence is on the way. Hundreds of servers will be washed away clearing a path for blade boxes and virtual servers. Software applications will be migrated to central locations eliminating the need for servers in the field, easing the maintenance burden for network administrators maybe. This strategy certainly applies to the many contact centers across large enterprises that have become safe havens for old and forgotten application servers. IT professionals are taxed with monitoring these servers to ensure consistency and compliance with IT policies. Environmental issues relating to rack space, cooling, and uninterruptible power are a major concern as well. So, it is easy to see why consolidation is such an important initiative. But can your infrastructure handle such a shift? When IT professionals are asked to help evaluate new applications for the contact center, they closely examine the applications architectures to ensure a number of things, such as scalability and different high availability options. But most importantly, IT professionals seek to uncover whether the applications can be installed and maintained centrally, versus distributed architectures that may require a server to be planted at each contact center location in the enterprise. Distributed architecture undermines consolidation and perpetuates the resource administration problem. This being the case, the challenge is 1) for application developers to modify their solutions so that they may accommodate both premise based (distributed) and enterprise based (centralized) environments, and 2) due to increased architectural complexity, IT professionals are being forced to make tough decisions regarding how they route and treat customer calls. Call routing is performed by contact center applications, and these applications depend upon voice and data links to existing core systems within the network infrastructure of the contact center. These core systems include: Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) Platforms Computer Telephony Integration (CTI)/Routing Engines The following sections illustrate how these systems can be consolidated to increase routing efficiency and ease of administration. Section 1: Centralized IVR Most companies that use IVRs segment calls in some fashion, e.g., press 1 for Billing, press 2 for Sales. Many organizations create self service IVR applications that help customers resolve issues and satisfy their inquiries, thereby minimizing the number of callers who need to speak with a customer service representative. Inevitably, not all callers can receive assistance through such IVR applications; and as a result, these callers need to be connected with the best suited agent within the enterprise. Rather than place an IVR physically at every contact center or helpdesk, a centralized IVR platform can be used to minimize the amount of administration and costly call delivery methods used to connect the caller with the appropriate agent resource. There are essentially two ways to centralize an IVR system: through an IVR farm or by a Network IVR. An IVR farm locates all of the IVR applications at one premise, on one or more servers depending on the number of incoming trunks and applications. All initial inbound calls come to the farm of IVR

2 applications and are then routed to the proper destination. A Network IVR is an application offered at the Interexchange Carrier (IXC) level. The carrier will host all of the hardware and software necessary for the IVR system. Calls initially come to the centralized Network IVR and are segmented and routed to the proper destination. When using a centralized IVR, there are a limited number of ways to physically transport calls to the proper destination. Take Back and Transfer Take Back and Transfer (TNT) is a feature offered by an IXC. In a Network IVR situation, after a call is treated by the IVR application, the carrier will simply take back the call and transfer it to the appropriate destination. This process happens seamlessly, and uses only a single trunk. Figure 1: TNT in a Network IVR Environment IVR farms, deployed by large organizations, can purchase this same capability from their IXC and can receive the same seamless, single trunk benefits. After a call is treated by the IVR farm, the Take Back and Transfer feature is invoked on a trunk by the IVR dialing *8 and the 800 number of the appropriate contact center destination. The carrier will then take the call back on the same trunk the customer is still using, and will transfer the call to its destination. This process frees the IVR port so that it may be quickly and efficiently used again. Figure 2: TNT in an IVR Farm Environment Carriers have different names for this feature/product, for example TNT or Transfer Connect. Inter Site Transfers Take Back and Transfer can be used to transfer calls to different sites within an enterprise, but sometimes this feature is not available. In many cases, one PBX/ACD must field the calls from an IVR and transfer them to another remote contact center. This transfer can be done in one of three ways:

3 1. Tromboning: The first way is by tie line, which is a point to point circuit between the locations. In this scenario, the PBX acts like a bridge to connect two trunks that are in use simultaneously the inbound PSTN trunk, and the line side tie line trunk. This is also referred to as tromboning. Because every call that needs to be transferred to a remote site requires two trunks, this is usually an undesirable configuration due to its resource inefficiency. Figure 3: Two Trunk IVR Transfer to Remote Agent using Tromboning 2. IP PBX: Alternatively, rather than using a traditional PBX to field the calls from the IVR, the calls may be transferred through a media gateway to an IP PBX which routes the call to a remote agent with an IP or SIP enabled phone set. In this case, only a single trunk is in use between the carrier network and the IP PBX s media gateway. This is a more desirable configuration since fewer trunks are required. One important note, however; until carriers begin delivering calls using IP, as opposed to Time Division Multiplexing (TDM the technology used to transfer calls on digital trunks) networks, the sheer quantity of gateway ports required between the carrier and the IP PBX may be quite costly. Figure 4: Single Trunk IVR Transfer to Remote IP Agent via IP PBX/ACD 3. Hybrid PBX/ACD: In a similar fashion, the call may be transferred from the IVR to a traditional PBX/ACD that has hybrid capabilities of both (TDM) and IP.. Once the PBX/ACD has the call, it can send the voice call to traditional TDM agents, or it can use a media gateway to transform and deliver the call in IP form to a remote IP agent. This configuration only requires a single trunk, which makes it desirable from a trunk use perspective as well. Figure 5: Single Trunk IVR Transfer using Hybrid PBX

4 Section 2: Centralized ACD and Remote Agents Companies may have many contact centers in various locations in order to satisfy different business requirements. For instance, a follow the sun strategy places contact centers in different time zones in order to facilitate the fulfillment of staffing requirements. Others open contact centers in various locales or countries where real estate and human resources are less expensive. Ironically, the service level targets for these dispersed contact centers are generally measured and managed by a business team at a central location. Nonetheless, our IT professionals are still responsible for implementing applications and their business rules across the entire enterprise to ensure that there is consistency in customer experience. The concept of a centralized ACD for contact centers which switches, queues, and routes thousands of calls simultaneously is not new. Phone companies have been doing it for years, packaging and selling the concept as Centrex service. Even Centrex has evolved, with phone companies now offering hosted ACD services. PBXs/ACDs developed for today s contact centers have become robust, extremely scalable, and employ advanced carrier like capabilities, thus bringing the vision of a centralized contact center ACD one step closer to reality for many large organizations. However, as previously discussed in the IVR section, the challenge still exists of transporting calls from a central location to remote locations where agents work. Phone companies who own all of the circuits between customer sites have little to no use cost associated with delivering calls. But most companies need to keep these costs in mind, and using two circuits for each call (as described in Section 1) is not financially viable. The Transfer Connect or TNT functionality is a better option to deliver calls to a remote location. This option does, however, require the remote location to have a PBX/ACD of its own with agents logged into it, which somewhat defeats the goal of centralized systems. The other scenarios described in Section 1 using IP or Hybrid PBXs/ACDs are more ideal. In these scenarios, remote agents log into a central ACD over private IP networks with IP phones. These agents may be managed in groups inside individual contact center facilities, or they might be workat home agents. Regardless, the hardware footprint requirement is considerably smaller when using these centralized approaches than for using premise based equipment. Centralized ACDs produce investments to expand the data network, including things like voice gateways. In addition, centralized ACDs can work with either Network IVRs or IVR farms. Figure 6: Remote IP Agents Part of Central PBX/ACD Section 3: Centralized Routing Routing applications became popular in the nineties; companies began using intelligent routing applications and leveraged their geographically dispersed contact center infrastructure to create giant virtual contact centers. A routing application is software that collects information about agents in the remote locations and attempts to route calls to available agents with appropriate skills across the entire enterprise. There are two traditional ways of doing this. 1. Premise Based Routing: Most contact center ACDs have the capability of interconnecting with another ACD of the same manufacturer. For the routing to occur, the link between them is both voice and data, with the data link being used for sending agent availability to each other along with other CTI information. They transfer calls to each other over the voice links, which are typically configured as tie lines. The tie lines are point to point voice circuits, and depending on

5 distance, can be expensive. This type of routing is also called post routing, site based routing, or premise based routing. While this configuration may get the job done, it is hardly centralized since calls are routed to individual contact centers first, and then transferred around the horn to other contact centers, based upon the independent decisions of routing applications running at each site. From an IT professional s perspective, tending to a large network of voice circuits is cumbersome. Figure 7: Fully Meshed Premise Based Routing (uses two trunks) Each ACD vendor has unique names for their routing solution, for instance, Avaya Best Service Routing, Nortel Network ACD, and Aspect Network InterQueue. An ACD agnostic platform and routing application, like Genesys Universal Routing Server, is able to function using a mix of ACDs. 2. Enterprise Routing: The second form of this routing technology aims to centralize the intelligence of the routing application as well as avoid the cost of provisioning point to point voice circuits between many contact centers. To accomplish this, the routing application interfaces directly with the IXC on one side, and to each contact center (client) on the other side. Figure 8: Enterprise Routing The centralized routing application collects data from each contact center or client, and is able to determine the location of agent availability, or the site that has the minimum expected delay for new calls arriving into this virtual contact center. The IXC is programmed to request a routing destination for new calls from the routing application. To ensure that the experience is seamless to the caller, the carrier will only wait 250 milliseconds for a route response before initiating the route. Within this timeframe, the routing application returns a response to the IXC which includes the location of the remote contact center. Based upon the route response, the IXC immediately routes the call to the destination contact center s PBX/ACD.

6 This method of routing is called pre routing or enterprise routing. This configuration was pioneered by Geotel in the early 1990 s, and after the company s acquisition in 1999 by Cisco, the product began to be called ICM (Intelligent Contact Management). Other companies use this configuration as well; Genesys calls it Network Routing, and Aspect uses Enterprise Contact Server for this purpose. The Right Combination of Consolidated Technologies Selecting the right technologies in the right configuration is critical for a growing business. Poorly designed solutions lead to a number of issues including tangled webs of lines, cables and circuits, as well as massive server and business rules maintenance, with equipment spread out all over the country (or world) with no end in sight. Also, when new applications are introduced by application hungry businessmen and women of the organization, environment limitations often cause the applications to be shoehorned into the existing environments, with some aspects that are centralized, while other aspects are distributed. When IT professionals push back and try not to allow these mismatched applications, it often leads to ridiculous claims from business people that IT professionals are stubborn and unhelpful. If you are currently living in the hornet s nest described above, then action is required now. Take the necessary time to design a consolidation plan, utilizing centralized resources and centralized administration. This will allow you to quickly and easily add best of breed products and solutions into your environment. Perhaps the easiest platform to centralize first is the IVR. For maximum flexibility you should select a vendor who has a Voice XML based system. Just like XML, Voice XML is standards based, open, extensible, and is easy to use and interpret. It also integrates well with text to speech and automatic speech recognition software. Look for platforms from Genesys, Voice Genie, Cisco, Nortel, and Intervoice. The most difficult platform to centralize is the ACD. Queuing calls on a single large PBX/ACD platform is not difficult, and routing from that platform is straight forward as well; however, since you normally will not house thousands of agents under one roof, you will be faced with the challenge of the physical transportation of calls to remote agents as was described in Sections 1 and 2 of this article. As discussed, the use of IP telephony is recommended for consolidating voice networks within a company. Hybrid PBX/ACDs can be converted to full IP functionality by building a private network that will transform the inbound TDM voice calls and transport them over IP. Building this network is certainly a tall task, but it s a task that will yield dividends in the long run. After the IVR and ACD environments are localized on an IP infrastructure, centralized routing is the final step of the consolidation process. Figure 9: The Right Combination of Consolidated Technologies

7 When all agents log into a central system with their skills clearly defined, and when all queues and extensions are on one IP network, this allows the ACD to simply direct calls to local extensions, regardless of their geographical location. This configuration is the most efficient, and it is also ideal for adding other best of breed contact center applications that are desired by business people, such as workforce management and virtual queuing solutions. With a consolidated environment, these applications no longer need to be distributed, since the voice and data resources they require are available to them from a single source. Therefore, only one centralized instance of each solution is necessary, not dozens spread across the enterprise. This type of environment also easily allows redundancy in order to maintain the framework during maintenance/failure events. This combination of consolidated resources and applications will not only increase the efficiency of the contact center environment, but it will show business professionals in your organization that when IT solutions are implemented properly, everyone benefits. Virtual Hold Technology is the leading developer of virtual queuing solutions for Fortune 1000 clients. Since its inception in 1995, VHT s patented, award-winning virtual queuing technology has provided return call solutions focused on enhancing the customer experience and improving opporational efficiency for financial services, energy/utility, insurance, telecommunications, cable, wireless, and retail corporations such as T-Mobile, Aflac, Verizon, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southwest Airlines, and TimeWarner Cable. To learn how VHT s virtual queuing solutions can help increase customer satisfaction and reduce contact center costs, visit or call USA : EMEA: +44 (0) APAC: +61 (0) LATIN AMERICA: Embassy Pkwy. Suite 350 Akron, OH TRY A DEMO

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