|By Rick Segrest||
|August 12, 2005 04:00 PM EDT||
Open source telephony will play a key role in keeping North American companies competitive in today's global marketplace. Not only does open source reduce upfront and operational costs, it increases productivity and furthers innovation in ways proprietary technologies cannot.
Take Aheeva as an example. Montreal-based Aheeva, a developer of call center applications, considered launching a spin-off company that would provide contact center outsourcing services including technical support, sales, and newspaper and cable TV subscriptions services.
However, at first glance it seemed too expensive since the start-up cost of setting up a call center (based on a proprietary PBX solution) would have cost close to $2 million.
In addition, many companies find that once an expensive standard PBX solution is implemented, it's not customizable, does not provide the level of support needed, and there is often little they could do to improve it.
Drawing from their vast expertise in evaluating and recommending call center technologies, Aheeva was in a position to compare solutions and implement a best-of-breed solution for its spin-off, the Atelka call center.
In March of 2003, they discovered Asterisk, the open source PBX/telephony application for Linux. Aheeva began as a three-man consulting service, with no call center. Working with high-end, very expensive, proprietary, hardware-based Lucent Genesis PBXs, they struggled to find contracts where they could deliver a fast return on investment.
By September 2003, six months after they discovered Asterisk, Aheeva dramatically increased the number of contracts they were able to pursue and win. Their new list of happy customers received the benefit of a reliable technology and a huge cost savings that Aheeva was able to pass along to them. Aheeva now continues to grow its consulting arm, adding 25 new employees including 15 engineers. Furthermore, they were now able to create the Atelka call center, which provided a new line of revenue for the company. By September 2005, Atelka will exceed 500 call center employees providing a wide range of services.
"We immediately saw the potential in the Asterisk solution," says Georges Karam, CEO of Aheeva. "We adopted Asterisk and got to know it very well."
Many companies now need call centers that can handle a high volume of calls for their technical support or sales department. Asterisk already has the functionality needed for this application built in: call queues, parking, extension logic, contexts, etc. "Call centers can benefit extensively from Asterisk-based call center solutions," says Karam.
Another key value-add for Aheeva was Asterisk's customizability. Aheeva was able to create several specialized tools to complement existing features and increase their contact centers' productivity.
Aheeva needed to simplify the configuration and administration of the existing Asterisk dial plan (Asterisk normally uses text-based configuration files to handle this). In addition, Aheeva needed to expand the ability of Asterisk to handle load balancing over an array of multiple Asterisk servers and switches, without losing track of the channel in which each individual call resides. This improved Asterisk's quick deployment and scalability.
AGI, or Asterisk Gateway Interface, is patterned after the Web's Common Gateway Interface so that the programmer can use his or her favorite programming language to create Asterisk applications, then communicate with Asterisk through STDOUT, receiving Asterisk's response through STDIN.
In the process of adding new features to Asterisk and testing its limits at the time, Aheeva discovered and fixed two bugs within the Asterisk code that appeared when you scale it to installations of this size. The Aheeva team submitted patches back to the community, which were well received. The stable branch of Asterisk 1.0 was introduced back in September 2004.
Though Asterisk started out as a basic PBX in 1999, it has expanded, integrating all of the major features needed in any type of telephone network for businesses. Because Asterisk has provided Aheeva with a high level of quality, as well as the ability to customize and upgrade inexpensively, it has enabled the company to compete with both the quality of big telecom companies, as well as the price of call centers in low-wage areas like India, Pakistan, and South America, as Aheeva is saving money on hardware and software instead of wages.
In the past six months since Asterisk has developed a stable development branch, Aheeva has not experienced any technical difficulties. Written for Linux, Asterisk is the most versatile open source telephony application available. Asterisk was launched as a C-based open source soft-PBX for Linux, but because of its open source model, Asterisk has expanded into an end-all be-all for telephony. It handles Voice over IP protocols in addition to TDM traffic (over traditional copper-wire telephone lines). In addition to PBX functionality, an Asterisk server can function as a soft-switch, an IVR menu system, a voice mail server, a call conference server, a media/music-on-hold server, etc.
Aheeva's COO, Francios Lambert, explains that if it weren't for Asterisk and Digium, "We would have never been able to grow the way we have, and the costs to implement our call center would have been prohibitive."
Instead, they quickly built an array of Asterisk servers, Digium high-density T1/E1 data and voice PCI cards, and soft phones for each user. Their total cost ended up being less than $400,000. Lambert added that the cost savings associated with implementing an Asterisk-based PBX to support its call center business has enabled the company to pass the savings onto its customers, and remain competitive in the outsourcing market.
Computer telephony integration applications are traditionally very expensive. But with an IP-based Asterisk call center, all the CTI functionality comes naturally. This has allowed Aheeva to build several new CTI applications to Asterisk make their call system more efficient. Because Aheeva uses soft phones, which go through the PC, calls can be integrated with e-mail, Web browsers, and the operating system. This eases Customer Resource Management as data can be routed wherever it needs to go, and can be presented to the agent receiving a call (e.g., customer name, photo, order history, etc.). Calls can also be routed to any agent anywhere. If a sales person receives a technical question, he or she can easily transfer the call to the first available agent with the correct skill set to provide an answer.
System administrators can also maintain an extensive database containing important statistics, such as how many agents are logged in or on the phone, how many calls they have made or answered, how long the average call is, etc. This data can be viewed and managed remotely. Statistics on each agent's work schedule for past days can be viewed in bar chart format representing the time they were working, took lunch or a break period, etc. An administrator may even listen into an agent's conversation if need be. Data on each agent's time talking to customers, time on hold, time off line, etc., may be compiled and computed to create a "Productivity ratio" for the entire group as well as each individual agent.
In addition, Aheeva has added an important CTI-based feature - answering machine detection. "We could not do without it," says Lambert. Answering machine detection can usually tell whether the phone on the other end was answered by a human or a machine, because people tend to answer the phone with a one-word greeting (like "Hello"), whereas recorded greetings tend to run on for a couple of sentences (e.g., "I'm not in... Please leave a number..."). The server can also detect the length of the pause before the greeting, another clue as to whether or not there is an answering machine on the other end.
Other custom solutions Aheeva created include a video screen capture application based in Macromedia Flash that merges sound and video; a multilingual, VoiceXML text-to-speech application that reads text to a caller (from documents such as help files or Web pages); and an automated, speech recognition application that transcribes contact center employees' voice recordings into text and loads it into a database. The text can then be archived and screened for words and phrases.
Aheeva has used Asterisk alongside its own technology to serve a variety of applications, including an automated stock quote service that users can call to obtain stock quotes through speech recognition applications. There are also applications for telephone flight schedules, movie ticket ordering, and winning lottery number information.
Aheeva's goal in the coming year and beyond is to remain the number one Asterisk contact center. Although they have a huge head start in developing the necessary technology to complement Asterisk, they will need to continue to innovate to compete with those companies who are quickly catching up.
A critical component of any IoT project is what to do with all the data being generated. This data needs to be captured, processed, structured, and stored in a way to facilitate different kinds of queries. Traditional data warehouse and analytical systems are mature technologies that can be used to handle certain kinds of queries, but they are not always well suited to many problems, particularly when there is a need for real-time insights.
Jul. 27, 2016 04:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,846
Big Data, cloud, analytics, contextual information, wearable tech, sensors, mobility, and WebRTC: together, these advances have created a perfect storm of technologies that are disrupting and transforming classic communications models and ecosystems. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Erik Perotti, Senior Manager of New Ventures on Plantronics’ Innovation team, provided an overview of this technological shift, including associated business and consumer communications impacts, and opportunities it ...
Jul. 27, 2016 04:30 PM EDT Reads: 157
You think you know what’s in your data. But do you? Most organizations are now aware of the business intelligence represented by their data. Data science stands to take this to a level you never thought of – literally. The techniques of data science, when used with the capabilities of Big Data technologies, can make connections you had not yet imagined, helping you discover new insights and ask new questions of your data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sarbjit Sarkaria, data science team lead ...
Jul. 27, 2016 04:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,100
Extracting business value from Internet of Things (IoT) data doesn’t happen overnight. There are several requirements that must be satisfied, including IoT device enablement, data analysis, real-time detection of complex events and automated orchestration of actions. Unfortunately, too many companies fall short in achieving their business goals by implementing incomplete solutions or not focusing on tangible use cases. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products...
Jul. 27, 2016 04:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,733
Is your aging software platform suffering from technical debt while the market changes and demands new solutions at a faster clip? It’s a bold move, but you might consider walking away from your core platform and starting fresh. ReadyTalk did exactly that. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, will discuss why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue and over a decade of audio conferencing product development to start an innovati...
Jul. 27, 2016 04:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,048
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus...
Jul. 27, 2016 03:30 PM EDT Reads: 961
SYS-CON Events announced today that 910Telecom will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Housed in the classic Denver Gas & Electric Building, 910 15th St., 910Telecom is a carrier-neutral telecom hotel located in the heart of Denver. Adjacent to CenturyLink, AT&T, and Denver Main, 910Telecom offers connectivity to all major carriers, Internet service providers, Internet backbones and ...
Jul. 27, 2016 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 706
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
Jul. 27, 2016 10:30 AM EDT Reads: 1,224
Manufacturers are embracing the Industrial Internet the same way consumers are leveraging Fitbits – to improve overall health and wellness. Both can provide consistent measurement, visibility, and suggest performance improvements customized to help reach goals. Fitbit users can view real-time data and make adjustments to increase their activity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mark Bernardo Professional Services Leader, Americas, at GE Digital, discussed how leveraging the Industrial Internet a...
Jul. 27, 2016 09:45 AM EDT Reads: 459
The cloud market growth today is largely in public clouds. While there is a lot of spend in IT departments in virtualization, these aren’t yet translating into a true “cloud” experience within the enterprise. What is stopping the growth of the “private cloud” market? In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Nara Rajagopalan, CEO of Accelerite, explored the challenges in deploying, managing, and getting adoption for a private cloud within an enterprise. What are the key differences between wh...
Jul. 27, 2016 09:30 AM EDT Reads: 2,075
SYS-CON Events announced today that Venafi, the Immune System for the Internet™ and the leading provider of Next Generation Trust Protection, will exhibit at @DevOpsSummit at 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Venafi is the Immune System for the Internet™ that protects the foundation of all cybersecurity – cryptographic keys and digital certificates – so they can’t be misused by bad guys in attacks...
Jul. 27, 2016 09:15 AM EDT Reads: 1,367
The best-practices for building IoT applications with Go Code that attendees can use to build their own IoT applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Indraneel Mitra, Senior Solutions Architect & Technology Evangelist at Cognizant, provided valuable information and resources for both novice and experienced developers on how to get started with IoT and Golang in a day. He also provided information on how to use Intel Arduino Kit, Go Robotics API and AWS IoT stack to build an application tha...
Jul. 27, 2016 09:15 AM EDT Reads: 1,165
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings in the last year, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their back-end AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT – especially in the connected home and office. Amazon is extending its reach by building on its dominant Cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strategy, recently announced Replenishment Services, the Echo/Alexa voice recognition control platform, the 6-7 strategic...
Jul. 27, 2016 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 468
IoT generates lots of temporal data. But how do you unlock its value? You need to discover patterns that are repeatable in vast quantities of data, understand their meaning, and implement scalable monitoring across multiple data streams in order to monetize the discoveries and insights. Motif discovery and deep learning platforms are emerging to visualize sensor data, to search for patterns and to build application that can monitor real time streams efficiently. In his session at @ThingsExpo, ...
Jul. 27, 2016 08:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,076
For basic one-to-one voice or video calling solutions, WebRTC has proven to be a very powerful technology. Although WebRTC’s core functionality is to provide secure, real-time p2p media streaming, leveraging native platform features and server-side components brings up new communication capabilities for web and native mobile applications, allowing for advanced multi-user use cases such as video broadcasting, conferencing, and media recording.
Jul. 27, 2016 08:45 AM EDT Reads: 944
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE, Nasdaq: VZ) and Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) have entered into a definitive agreement under which Verizon will acquire Yahoo's operating business for approximately $4.83 billion in cash, subject to customary closing adjustments. Yahoo informs, connects and entertains a global audience of more than 1 billion monthly active users** -- including 600 million monthly active mobile users*** through its search, communications and digital content products. Yahoo also co...
Jul. 27, 2016 08:00 AM EDT Reads: 607
There will be new vendors providing applications, middleware, and connected devices to support the thriving IoT ecosystem. This essentially means that electronic device manufacturers will also be in the software business. Many will be new to building embedded software or robust software. This creates an increased importance on software quality, particularly within the Industrial Internet of Things where business-critical applications are becoming dependent on products controlled by software. Qua...
Jul. 27, 2016 06:30 AM EDT Reads: 1,494
In addition to all the benefits, IoT is also bringing new kind of customer experience challenges - cars that unlock themselves, thermostats turning houses into saunas and baby video monitors broadcasting over the internet. This list can only increase because while IoT services should be intuitive and simple to use, the delivery ecosystem is a myriad of potential problems as IoT explodes complexity. So finding a performance issue is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Jul. 27, 2016 04:45 AM EDT Reads: 2,294
Machine Learning helps make complex systems more efficient. By applying advanced Machine Learning techniques such as Cognitive Fingerprinting, wind project operators can utilize these tools to learn from collected data, detect regular patterns, and optimize their own operations. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Stuart Gillen, Director of Business Development at SparkCognition, discussed how research has demonstrated the value of Machine Learning in delivering next generation analytics to imp...
Jul. 27, 2016 04:30 AM EDT Reads: 2,517
Large scale deployments present unique planning challenges, system commissioning hurdles between IT and OT and demand careful system hand-off orchestration. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Smith, Senior Director and a founding member of Incenergy, will discuss some of the key tactics to ensure delivery success based on his experience of the last two years deploying Industrial IoT systems across four continents.
Jul. 27, 2016 04:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,576