|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.
The 3rd International WebRTC Summit, to be held Nov. 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 15th International Cloud Expo, 6th International Big Data Expo, 3rd International DevOps Summit and 2nd Internet of @ThingsExpo. WebRTC (Web-based Real-Time Communication) is an open source project supported by Google, Mozilla and Opera that aims to enable bro...
Sep. 4, 2015 01:15 AM EDT Reads: 1,612
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pythian, a global IT services company specializing in helping companies leverage disruptive technologies to optimize revenue-generating systems, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Founded in 1997, Pythian is a global IT services company that helps companies compete by adopting disruptive technologies such as cloud, Big Data, advanced analytics, and DevOps to advance innovation and increase agility. Specializing in designing, imple...
Sep. 4, 2015 12:00 AM EDT Reads: 382
Containers are not new, but renewed commitments to performance, flexibility, and agility have propelled them to the top of the agenda today. By working without the need for virtualization and its overhead, containers are seen as the perfect way to deploy apps and services across multiple clouds. Containers can handle anything from file types to operating systems and services, including microservices. What are microservices? Unlike what the name implies, microservices are not necessarily small, but are focused on specific tasks. The ability for developers to deploy multiple containers – thous...
Sep. 3, 2015 10:00 PM EDT Reads: 194
SYS-CON Events announced today that IceWarp will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IceWarp, the leader of cloud and on-premise messaging, delivers secured email, chat, documents, conferencing and collaboration to today's mobile workforce, all in one unified interface
Sep. 3, 2015 10:00 PM EDT Reads: 491
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo, November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be.
Sep. 3, 2015 08:30 PM EDT Reads: 165
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome,” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Sep. 3, 2015 04:30 PM EDT Reads: 433
As more and more data is generated from a variety of connected devices, the need to get insights from this data and predict future behavior and trends is increasingly essential for businesses. Real-time stream processing is needed in a variety of different industries such as Manufacturing, Oil and Gas, Automobile, Finance, Online Retail, Smart Grids, and Healthcare. Azure Stream Analytics is a fully managed distributed stream computation service that provides low latency, scalable processing of streaming data in the cloud with an enterprise grade SLA. It features built-in integration with Azur...
Sep. 3, 2015 02:45 PM EDT Reads: 391
With the proliferation of connected devices underpinning new Internet of Things systems, Brandon Schulz, Director of Luxoft IoT – Retail, will be looking at the transformation of the retail customer experience in brick and mortar stores in his session at @ThingsExpo. Questions he will address include: Will beacons drop to the wayside like QR codes, or be a proximity-based profit driver? How will the customer experience change in stores of all types when everything can be instrumented and analyzed? As an area of investment, how might a retail company move towards an innovation methodolo...
Sep. 3, 2015 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 519
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Sep. 3, 2015 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 966
SYS-CON Events announced today the Containers & Microservices Bootcamp, being held November 3-4, 2015, in conjunction with 17th Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, and @DevOpsSummit at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. This is your chance to get started with the latest technology in the industry. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the Containers and Microservices Bootcamp, led by Janakiram MSV, a Microsoft Regional Director, will include presentations as well as hands-on demos and comprehensive walkthroughs.
Sep. 3, 2015 02:15 PM EDT Reads: 419
Contrary to mainstream media attention, the multiple possibilities of how consumer IoT will transform our everyday lives aren’t the only angle of this headline-gaining trend. There’s a huge opportunity for “industrial IoT” and “Smart Cities” to impact the world in the same capacity – especially during critical situations. For example, a community water dam that needs to release water can leverage embedded critical communications logic to alert the appropriate individuals, on the right device, as soon as they are needed to take action.
Sep. 3, 2015 01:30 PM EDT
WebRTC services have already permeated corporate communications in the form of videoconferencing solutions. However, WebRTC has the potential of going beyond and catalyzing a new class of services providing more than calls with capabilities such as mass-scale real-time media broadcasting, enriched and augmented video, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Luis Lopez, CEO of Kurento, will introduce the technologies required for implementing these ideas and some early experiments performed in the Kurento open source software community in areas ...
Sep. 3, 2015 01:15 PM EDT Reads: 113
Consumer IoT applications provide data about the user that just doesn’t exist in traditional PC or mobile web applications. This rich data, or “context,” enables the highly personalized consumer experiences that characterize many consumer IoT apps. This same data is also providing brands with unprecedented insight into how their connected products are being used, while, at the same time, powering highly targeted engagement and marketing opportunities. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Nathan Treloar, President and COO of Bebaio, will explore examples of brands transforming their businesses by t...
Sep. 3, 2015 12:30 PM EDT Reads: 290
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lee Williams, a producer of the first smartphones and tablets, will talk about how he is now applying his experience in mobile technology to the design and development of the next generation of Environmental and Sustainability Services at ETwater. He will explain how M2M controllers work through wirelessly connected remote controls; and specifically delve into a retrofit option that reverse-engineers control codes of existing conventional controller systems so they don't have to be replaced and are instantly converted to become smart, connected devices.
Sep. 3, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 260
With the Apple Watch making its way onto wrists all over the world, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a staple in the workplace. In fact, Forrester reported that 68 percent of technology and business decision-makers characterize wearables as a top priority for 2015. Recognizing their business value early on, FinancialForce.com was the first to bring ERP to wearables, helping streamline communication across front and back office functions. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Kevin Roberts, GM of Platform at FinancialForce.com, will discuss the value of business applications on wearable ...
Sep. 3, 2015 10:45 AM EDT Reads: 103
SYS-CON Events announced today that Micron Technology, Inc., a global leader in advanced semiconductor systems, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Micron’s broad portfolio of high-performance memory technologies – including DRAM, NAND and NOR Flash – is the basis for solid state drives, modules, multichip packages and other system solutions. Backed by more than 35 years of technology leadership, Micron's memory solutions enable the world's most innovative computing, consumer,...
Sep. 3, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 288
17th Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterprises are using some form of XaaS – software, platform, and infrastructure as a service.
Sep. 3, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,604
While many app developers are comfortable building apps for the smartphone, there is a whole new world out there. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Narayan Sainaney, Co-founder and CTO of Mojio, will discuss how the business case for connected car apps is growing and, with open platform companies having already done the heavy lifting, there really is no barrier to entry.
Sep. 3, 2015 09:30 AM EDT Reads: 217
SYS-CON Events announced today that the "Second Containers & Microservices Expo" will take place November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities.
Sep. 3, 2015 09:30 AM EDT Reads: 655
As more intelligent IoT applications shift into gear, they’re merging into the ever-increasing traffic flow of the Internet. It won’t be long before we experience bottlenecks, as IoT traffic peaks during rush hours. Organizations that are unprepared will find themselves by the side of the road unable to cross back into the fast lane. As billions of new devices begin to communicate and exchange data – will your infrastructure be scalable enough to handle this new interconnected world?
Sep. 3, 2015 09:30 AM EDT Reads: 208