April 24, 2014

Call Quality in a Cloud-based, Mobile World

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As we all know, the business world is experiencing some seismic shifts when it comes to technology and communications.  A corporate world once dominated by enterprise applications on dedicated servers and people talking on deskphones via landlines, is now firmly entrenched in a cloud-based, wireless, mobility-centric reality.  And when it comes to unified communications between business people, the options for businesses have exploded.  One thing that hasn’t changed however, is the need for interpersonal collaboration.  Whether it is via voice or video calls, business people need and expect to connect and communicate wherever and whenever they want, on whatever device they have handy and in the manner they prefer.  And, oh yeah, they expect it to sound perfect, every time.

Call Quality Challenges Facing Businesses and End Users

Quality Headsets Voice QualitySince we were little, we’ve all learned to expect flawless sounding phone calls – and more and more we expect seamless video calls as well.  However, the trends towards cloud and mobility can cause challenges for businesses looking delivering this experience for colleagues, customers and partners.   

We’ve talked about the network challenges here in the past, but add on the fact that there are more cloud and software based voice and video solutions on the market, and the workforce has become virtual with teleworking on the rise (see this post on the rise in At-home Call Center Agents) .  Smart phones and tablets are becoming the devices of choice of a mobile workforce, and the trend towards PC-based softphones continues.  But one thing hasn’t changed is that voice is still the dominant communications method, whether it’s a one-on-one phone call, conference call, webinar or videoconference.

All of these changes are driving the need for reliable, high quality voice and audio endpoints, both headsets and speakerphones.  To get into more detail on why voice endpoints have taken on even more significance, we caught up with Urban Gillis, the Vice President of Sales at Carousel partner Jabra.

Voice and  Audio Endpoints Needs to Perform

“With the challenges of being on the road, connecting from an airport parking lot, or even as a home-based contact center rep connecting through your computer, the need for a high quality audio endpoint has never been greater,” says Gillis.  “We’ve all experienced call jitter as the move towards IP phones and video calls has accelerated and these seem to be increasing as we’ve all been connecting through different types of networks.  Eliminating the possibility of poor quality originating from your headset or mobile speakerphone just makes sense.”

Devices that incorporate technology that support a professional experience can make all the difference.  For example, noise cancelling technology to minimize the impact of that dog barking in the yard next door, or wind noise protection for that sales person on the road.  “Having software-centric products so that adjustments can be made as environments change provides real benefits to a mobile workforce.  The endpoints businesses and their employees choose can deliver tangible results.  There are few pieces of technology that you use as often as your voice endpoint and it needs to deliver and perform for you.”

We couldn’t agree more.  Stay tuned for upcoming information on Jabra’s new Jabra Express solution that allows IT managers to manage all voice endpoints in the enterprise from one location, push updates to devices to streamline workflow, ensure compliance, manage roaming areas and more.

 

 

911 Services Struggle to Keep Up With Changing Phone Networks

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With Hurricane Sandy still dominating the news, we thought it was a good time to review the challenges campus emergency 911of emergency response and how important 911 systems are.  A 2006 story in The Washington Post illustrates the worst-case scenario when 911 systems don’t work as intended:

Kaafee Billah walked into his Gaithersburg office shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday. The 39-year-old sales representative, who had recently started working at the medical company MedImmune Inc., made the first call from his desk at 9:02. Roughly 40 minutes later, he called 911 to say he needed medical help.

Almost 10 hours passed before someone found his body lying on the floor.

Police say an apparent phone glitch sent emergency personnel to the wrong address, leading them to believe that the 911 call was unfounded.

Sadly, six years since that event, we are still experiencing mix-ups with 911 systems for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the increased complexity of phone networks and the rise of home and mobile workers.

Increasingly Complex Phone Networks Cause 911 Woes

The problem is the same technology that makes phone networks far more feature-rich than they were in the past can make it more difficult to identify where a caller is calling from. In the past a phone number was associated with a particular place – your house, for example – that is far from the case today. “Follow-me” services enable the same phone number to be used for an office phone, a cell phone and at home. Businesses use technologies such as VoIP and SIP trunks that completely deconstruct the relationship between area code and location.

Carousel is a case in point. While our headquarters is in Rhode Island, we have workers all over the country. If one of our Virginia-based folks should call you, you’d likely see the Rhode Island 401 area code pop up on your caller ID – because that’s how our VoIP system works. If that same Virginia worker needs to call 911, he needs a way to ensure the emergency service provider knows where he is – and that he’s far from Rhode Island.

Mobility Increases 911 Complexity

Given the trend toward mobility and work-at-home employees, you can see how the problem can quickly be exacerbated. Increasingly employees use soft phones that are completely computer-based, meaning their phone number is really associated with an IP address, not a physical location. The Carousel example above is again a case in point, as many of our remote workers may well work out of their homes.

Similarly, when users are on the road, if they’re in range of a WiFi network it’s possible they’ll use that network to tie in to their corporate phone network, instead of using the cellular network. Once again, that presents 911 challenges.

E911 Legislation Is On the Rise

States are taking the situation seriously, as 18 of them have already passed legislation mandating that companies with multiline phone systems implement technology that enables effective E911 capabilities. Additional states, including California, are taking steps in that direction.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is looking at putting some rules together governing 911 and multi-line phone systems, an action supported by Carousel’s partners Avaya and 911 ETC as well as groups such as the National Emergency Number Association.

911 ETC, in fact, is a premier provider of software that enables E911 solutions for companies of virtually any size, whether with a traditional PBX or VoIP system. Its offerings include CrisisConnect for the enterprise, RedConnect for small businesses and VoIPConnect for IP, SoftLoc for soft phone provisioning, and on-site notification.

911 ETC works closely with Avaya to ensure its software works with all the latest Avaya gear. In fact, 911 ETC is a member of Avaya’s recently launched Select Product Program and participates in the Avaya DevConnect program to ensure 911 ETC products are compatible with Avaya’s solutions.

With products from the likes of 911 ETC, there’s no need to take risks with your 911 service. And it may well be the law.

3 Challenges of SIP Trunking – and How Session Border Controllers Address Them

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We’ve previously touched on the topic of session border controllers (SBCs) and their role in enabling companies to take advantage of SIP trunking. But after checking out a webinar presented by Acme Packet, a Carousel Industries partner, we’ve got lots more to add about SBCs.Session-Border-Controller-Network-Diagram

In the webinar, Scott Yewell, senior product line manager for Acme Packet, explained that SBCs help companies deal with the challenges inherent in moving to an all-IP network and SIP trunking. Those challenges fall into three categories: integration, security and support.

How SBCs Help with IP Network Integration

One of the problems companies run into when they look to implement SIP trunking to replace PRI or T-1 lines is getting all the IP-based equipment in their various branch or regional offices to work with one another. Maybe some offices have voice and video equipment from Avaya while others use Cisco. That’s not an issue when the offices are connected via PRI or T-1 lines, but when using SIP it’s all IP all the way – so the equipment has to interoperate.

That leaves companies with two options, one of which is to rip and replace some of the equipment so that it’s all from the same vendor. That, of course is expensive and fails to protect existing equipment investments.  The other option is to use an SBC to enable interoperability between the equipment.

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Dig Deeper:  Watch the recorded webinar on Session Border Controller now!
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For example, an SBC will enable interoperability between SIP and the older H.323 protocols previously used for video. Even if all the equipment supports SIP, vendors tend to implement the standards slightly differently. Acme Packet has worked to understand the various nuances of these implementations and ensure they all work with Acme Packet SBCs, essentially providing integration among multivendor equipment.

SBCs Add Security to All-IP Networks

Going all IP exposes companies to risks they don’t face with T-1 or PRI lines. One such threat Yewell mentioned is reconnaissance scanning, where an intruder tries to index the IP network to find open extensions from which they can make outbound phone calls. Another is protocol fuzzing, which is the use of malformed SIP messages to try to take down communications equipment.

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Dig Deeper:  Check out details of the Q&A about Session Border Controllers from the Webinar
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SBCs from the likes of Acme Packet have features to protect against such security threats. In part that’s because the SBC acts as a demarcation point between the service provider and the enterprise network. All inbound calls terminate at the SBC, which then forges a new connection to the enterprise side. So when an intruder tries to scan the network, they can only see as far as the SBC. The SBC can also recognize SIP-based and other protocol-based attacks and will terminate them before they cause any harm, Yewell says.

Improve Troubleshooting and Support with Session Border Controllers

When something goes wrong in a SIP-based network, an SBC can be crucial in troubleshooting the problem, he notes. Consider a company that has SIP connections to two service providers, a primary and a backup. If there’s a glitch, trying to troubleshoot the cause can be a problem.

But the SBC continually tracks and logs all communications that come through it, creating a wealth of historical information that can be valuable in troubleshooting. What’s more, it can measure the quality of a call, including jitter and dropped packets, to further help troubleshoot problems. The SBC will also make intelligent decisions based on all the information it collects. If the primary SIP trunk starts acting poorly, it will proactively switch traffic to the secondary trunk – before users are impacted.

Check out the Carousel Webinar to learn more about the role SBCs play in SIP-based networks. And click here to get a taste of the many questions and answers about session border controllers Yewell fields during the event.

Avaya and Carousel Keep Families Connected at World’s Largest Ronald McDonald House(R) in Chicago

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Since I was a little kid, I have always been impressed by the Ronald McDonald House Charities and their efforts to find and support programs that directly improve the health and well being of children.  Having known families that have benefited from this tremendous organization over the years (in the most difficult of situations), it was great to read about the efforts of Carousel and our partner Avaya in supporting the world’s largest Ronald McDonald House in Chicago.  As described in Broadcaster Magazine:

Ronald McDonald House Charities(R) of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana (RMHC(R)-CNI) recently celebrated a significant milestone — the official opening of the world’s largest Ronald McDonald House, located at 211 E. Grand Avenue in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. To enhance the care and support delivered to families of sick children, RMHC-CNI partnered with Avaya to bring Avaya IP Office — the company’s unified communications solution for small and mid-size companies — into the new Ronald McDonald House(R) near Lurie Children’s.

Avaya IP Office provides RMHC-CNI with a state-of-the-art communications solution that ensures families and House staff can easily stay in touch within the House and with local hospitals. Installation and other services were delivered by Platinum-certified Avaya Connect Channel Partner Carousel Industries, with fulfillment support delivered by Westcon Group, Inc.

Avaya IP Office will help the charity deliver on its “families first” mission through an array of features, ranging from enhanced mobility and multi-party conferencing to integration with top-tier guest services. Advanced mobility applications enable staff members to remain consistently accessible to co-workers and House guests through a single number, even when they are working away from the new House. Additionally, an Avaya IP Office application turns a staff member’s cell phone into a full-featured office phone so that House staff members can remain reachable, with business-level communications in-hand. The same feature can be used by the families so they won’t miss important calls when away from their bedrooms.

With Avaya IP Office, employees also get a centralized conferencing bridge that allows all staff members at the four Ronald McDonald Houses in the Chicagoland area — and at the local Chapter Office — to set up conference calls on demand.

Installation and design of the solution was delivered by Carousel Industries, which also provided project management expertise and coordination of operations. Carousel will deliver ongoing maintenance and support, including site visits and system evaluations, as well as assisting RMHC-CNI with on-site programming and ‘adds, move and changes.’

When a family is going though an experience that requires they rely on a group like the Ronald McDonald House, there are few things more important than communication.  We are thrilled to have been able to participate in, and support such an important initiative to insure that the communication needs of the families and staff are taken care of.  Hats off to Avaya and the Westcon Group for making this happen.

 

The Importance of Advanced 911 Systems: Norfolk, Va

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Norfolk is the second-largest city in Virginia, with nearly 250,000 residents within an area of less than 100 square miles. It has more than 100 different neighborhoods and a huge military and government presence, including the country’s largest Navy base and the global defense headquarters of NATO. As a result, the city is pressed to a level of vigilance greater than few other American cities and consequently handles one of the largest volumes of 911 calls anywhere in Virginia.

Like most states, Virginia is also having its share of budget issues and last year the Norfolk’s Emergency Communications Center faced a 5% reduction in its budget – at the same time that the city was presented with a product discontinuation notice for its 11-year-old, 18-seat 911 call answering system. Between that and escalating repair costs for the system, it was clearly time to seek a replacement.

Mapping Out Requirements for a New 911 Solution

The city had a number of requirements for its new solution, starting with the need for a seamless cutover, without any disruption to operations of the busy call center. The new system also had to be highly flexible, capable of quick reconfiguration for either training or emergency overflow use, and had to be able to rapidly adapt to circumstances ranging from a freeway automobile accident to a major natural disaster. Norfolk also sought an open system, and one better able to identify and respond to emergency needs located by wireless communications.

Norfolk wanted a turnkey solution that incorporated IP telephony, advanced but user-friendly data management features, Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) functionality and redundancy for mission-critical uptime dependability.

Cassidian and Carousel Offer a 911 Solution for Norfolk

Carousel Industries and its partner Cassidian Communications crafted a solution for Norfolk based on Cassidian’s NG911 platform: Cassidian’s Sentinel Patriot PSAP.

The Sentinel Patriot represents a wholesale transition away from legacy analog architectures and towards modern IP-based telephony and unified communications. The NG911 platform introduces features made possible by digital telephony, including video and digital photos, instant messaging and advanced GPS and wireless user location. The NG911 system gives 911 dispatchers a wealth of information – and a strong advantage when lives and property are at stake.

Together Carousel and Cassidian installed 10 Sentinel Patriot Workstations for primary call takers, based on state of the art HP Z200 desktop PCs. These intelligent stations integrate large amounts of real time operational data, from call traffic analysis to instant advanced GPS mapping software access, into a single pane offering event visibility to emergency dispatchers. Instant Recall Recorder (IRR) applications enable center call takers to record and review multiple channels of call audio simultaneously, sharing data across workstations so they can respond collaboratively.

Call center supervisors manage the entire center platform via Cassidian’s Aurora MIS software package, which shapes data provided by call workstations into an advanced data mining intelligence resource. Combined with Sentinel Monitor, a real time call center management system, Norfolk’s 9-1-1 supervisors have the ability to monitor the entire system with a great degree of granularity – in real time.

An additional seven Patriot Workstations are installed in an adjourning training room, integrated with the live system and server hub to permit a rapid cutover to live use when necessary. This allows Norfolk to instantly turn its training room into an additional 911 call center for major emergency events. The system also includes Sentinel CommandPOST – mobile, suitcase-based 9-1-1 command centers that can be quickly deployed and used virtually anywhere during a crisis.

With their new Sentinel Patriot NG911 call platform and the help of Carousel Industries and Cassidian Communications, Norfolk now has next-generation 911 response capabilities and is more prepared than ever to help its residents in their time of need.

To learn more about the innovative 911 solution that Carousel and Cassidian developed for Norfolk, check out the Carousel case study on the project.

More Benefits to SIP Trunking and the Role of the Session Border Controller

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We’ve written previously about what the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is all about and a few of the business benefits it provides. In this post, we’ll add a few more benefits and discuss one crucial element you need in a SIP environment: a session border controller (SBC).

What a Session Border Controller Does and Why You Need It

SBCs are devices commonly deployed in voice over IP (VOIP) networks to control the signaling as well as call setup and tear down. In the SIP world, they are crucial in not only helping with those tasks but also to provide security and interoperability.

With respect to security, essentially SBCs act as a security appliance for VOIP and other multimedia sessions. Typically placed in the DMZ between the Internet and the enterprise network, the SBC protects against threats such as denial of service attacks, malformed packets and intrusion detection and prevention.

An SBC also fosters connectivity with such services as NAT traversal, IPv4 to IPv6 interworking, VPN support and protocol translations between SIP and other call control protocols, notably H.323.

How SIP Trunking Saves Money

SBCs help customers protect the SIP-based trunks they get from carriers that save lots of money as compared to traditional PRI and T1 lines. SIP trunks enable customers to save money in various ways, including:

  • Consolidating infrastructure and networks: Many businesses have reduced their telecommunications costs by as much as 30% to 70% by migrating to SIP and consolidating infrastructure to make more efficient use of trunks. Enterprises can consolidate PBXs and unified communications servers into centralized data centers. By aggregating trunks into a few data centers, many businesses have reduced their total number of voice trunks by 30% to 50% without impacting capacity.
  • More attractive pricing: Conventional trunk service providers charge additional fees for supplemental features, but most SIP trunk providers include advanced features along with some free DID numbers and long distance minutes as part of the fixed monthly service fee.
  • More cost-effective scalability: Companies must buy PRIs in increments of 23 (or, in Europe, 30) channels. With SIP trunking businesses can buy only the capacity they need. What’s more, they often don’t have to plan for sporadic peaks because many SIP trunk service providers support a “bursting” option to temporarily increase capacity to accommodate intermittent traffic spikes.
  • Toll-free on-net calling: Businesses can eliminate PSTN fees and improve communications with small offices, teleworkers and international sites by carrying internal calls over the IP network.
  • Improved disaster recovery: Enterprises can implement cost-effective disaster recovery plans by consolidating PBXs and UC servers into redundant data centers, with SIP making it easy to switch calls to the backup in the event of a disaster. Additionally, SIP makes it easy to use remote offices and home-based workers for affordable business continuity in the event of primary office closings.

To learn more about the benefits of migrating to SIP, read the white paper “Moving to an SIP-Enabled Architecture”.

Telework Week Demonstrates Big Savings from Home Worker Strategies

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Working from home saves the time and fuel associated with commuting, and thus real dollars, but can also improve employee productivity and make employees happier. Not surprisingly, management is taking notice and becoming more receptive to the idea.

Those are some of the key takeaways from Telework Week 2012, co-sponsored by Cisco and the Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership focused on demonstrating the tangible value of telework and serving the educational and communication requirements of the Federal teleworker community.  This was the second year of the weeklong event and participation was up fairly dramatically, with an 80% increase in the number of workers pledging to participate – more than 70,000 of them in all, the vast majority (94%) being federal government workers.

Telework Delivers Big Savings

The results they report are nothing short of astounding. Consider these stats from the benchmark report on the event:

  • Telework Week 2012 saved pledges a total of 6,413,006 miles; 251,774 hours; 3,453 tons of pollutants; and $5,651,890 on commuting
  • Telework Revolution: If all Telework Week 2012 pledges teleworked two days a week for one year, they would collectively save: $282,594,515 or $3,962 individually
  • Growing Benefits: 71% of Telework Week 2012’s participating organizations saw improved productivity (up from 60% in 2011), and 71% saw increased continuity of operations (up from 52% in 2011)
  • Telework Gets Smoother: Just one in five organizations encountered challenges – such as technical issues – during Telework Week 2012, versus nearly one in three during Telework Week 2011

Asked whether their management team was more open to and encouraging of telework this year than last year, 62% said they were, up a bit from last year’s 60%. The report says that may be because companies are getting better at proving the ROI of telework efforts, using metrics such as employee productivity, reduction in commuting time and costs, real estate cost savings, employee satisfaction, employee retention and energy savings.

For years Carousel has been helping our clients realize the benefits of teleworking through data networking solutions, VoIP infrastructure and Unified Communications solutions.  So it came as no surprise to us that organizations are truly beginning to realize the tremendous upside that teleworking can provide in the right situations.

GSA Proves Value of Telework

The report includes case studies on a few of the event participants, most of which were government agencies. The GSA, for example, had almost 8,000 staffers participating, about 65% of the agency – pretty impressive. Of those, 93% said they and their teams were as productive or more productive than normal and 97% said the experience was positive overall. In total, GSA saved 273,000 miles in commuting during the week.

The report doesn’t say how much time those commuting figures translate to. Just for kicks, let’s say it comes out to one minute per mile, a conservative estimate. That translates to 4,550 hours.  That means each of the employees effectively got more than 30 minutes of extra free time for the week, and many of them probably a lot more.

Creating an Effective Telework Plan

Asked what they believe is most important to a successful telework effort, the participants gave responses such as:

  • “Good communication infrastructure and good IT support.”
  • “A definitive plan, two-way communications, and management involvement in the planning process.”
  • “Collaborative tools like workgroup chat rooms, desktop video meetings, and online presence indicators.”
  • “Transparency and accountability.”
  • “Ensuring connectivity to our Intranet and other internal networks.”
  • “A good working relationship with staff, clear expectations, and measurable work.”
  • “Leadership support.”

Only 21% of the participants reported having any challenges during the week, down from 32% last year. Most of those challenges (61%) were technical in nature while others were trust issues (11%) and communication issues (10%).  That’s an indicator that, for the most part, IT is doing a good job in delivering the kinds of technology that makes telecommuting possible, most notably VPNs.

Increasingly, though, other technologies are going to enter the telecommuting mix, such as desktop virtualization, which can give workers access to the exact same desktop remotely as they have in the office. Unified communications technology will also play a role – and will help address those communication issues by ensuring workers can keep in touch with one another no matter where they may be. (Check out our previous post for how to achieve a successful UC implementation.)  And, as we’ve reported previously, it’s also important to keep in mind not all remote workers have the same requirements, so you’ve got to classify each type of worker and give them the support they need.

If you need additional help getting your telework plan together, contact Carousel. Clearly there’s a movement afoot here – don’t miss out on it.

3 Important Roles that SIP Plays in a Contact Center

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Anyone who runs a contact center has to be concerned about issues like disaster recovery, business continuity and smooth, reliable communications, including for call transfers and between applications. Increasingly, the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is playing a big role in enabling those capabilities and more in contact centers.

SIP, as we’ve covered before, is a signaling protocol that handles call setup, tear down andsession management for a variety of call types, including voice and video but also extending to applications that may play into a call center environment, such as interactive voice response and recording systems. SIP also provides the basis for many other useful features, including some innovative trunking capabilities and presence technology. In the contact center, SIP plays at least three important roles, says Zach Shankle, Director of Call Center Services for Carousel Industries.

SIP Trunking Saves Contact Centers Money, Eases Disaster Recovery

“The thing we see most is people going to SIP trunks,” Shankle says. SIP trunks are an alternative to the T-1s or PRI links that companies traditionally used to connect their call centers to the carrier network, and they provide some important benefits. First, SIP trunks can be used to terminate direct inward dial (DID) lines from anywhere, so all calls can be treated as local calls. And the trunks are essentially delivered as a single pool of capacity that you can divide up among different applications as you see fit, rather than dedicating separate channels of a T-1 to various resources.

In a disaster scenario, SIP also gives companies the ability to quickly redirect their inbound numbers to an alternate site. With traditional trunks, it may take hours to redirect your inbound numbers, Shankle says. “In the SIP model, you just flip a switch and can redirect your numbers, including the local DID numbers,” he says.

What’s more, unlike T-1s or PRI trunks, with SIP trunks companies can “burst” above their normally assigned amount of bandwidth as needed. This is great for companies with seasonal demands, such as retailers, Shankle says. Instead of having to pay for lots of bandwidth that they rarely use, they can pay for what they normally use and burst above it during periods of peak demands, paying only for actual additional usage.

Improve Contact Center Call Control with SIP

SIP can also play an important behind the scenes role in helping to make sure contact center applications can seamlessly communicate with one another and that calls are never dropped. Typically, when a call comes in the phone switch handles it initially. If the caller wants to use the IVR, the call is handed off and call control gets passed to the IVR. Or perhaps it’s passed to a computer-telephony integration (CTI) app to gather some information. Again, call control is passed to the CTI app. At some point, the call likely has to go back to the phone switch, such as to pass the call to an agent; again call control gets handed off. All that creates a lot of traffic back and forth across the network and if anything goes wrong at any step – such as the IVR or CTI app being unavailable – the call gets dropped.

Dig Deeper: Download the free whitepaper: Moving to an SIP-enabled architecture

With SIP, call control remains with the VOIP call control manager, let’s say the Avaya Communication Manager. When it needs an additional resource, SIP essentially sends an invitation to that resource to join the call; but call control remains with Communication Manager. “That’s a much smoother process and we never lose call control or risk disconnecting,” Shankle says. “If the IVR doesn’t respond, we move on to the next step and we never lose the call.”

SIP Enables Presence Capabilities in Contact Centers

Another feature that is becoming increasingly important in contact centers is presence, which enables agents to see the status of other agents at a glance – on the phone, available, at lunch and so on. That capability is driven using the SIP protocol, he says, noting it works whether the agents are in the same room or in their own homes, unable to see each other. The capability helps agents get questions answered quickly, such as by sending an instant message to an appropriate expert and reporting the answer back to the caller – without having to transfer the call. For more complex matters that do require a transfer, the original agent can find another that is available and perhaps even conference the new agent in before transferring, so the caller isn’t put on hold. “It makes for faster customer service,” Shankle says.

To learn more about SIP, download our FREE whitepaper – Moving to an SIP-Enabled Architecture, or contact Carousel today to speak with one of our contact center experts.

The Red Sox and Carousel Industries: Great Teammates

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Fenway Dressed Up for the Holidays

I recently had the opportunity to do something I’ve always dreamed of doing. Walk up to home plate at Fenway Park and imagine myself blasting a shot over the Green Monster. (Note: It’s further than you think!) I had this rare experience when I was able to join Bob Harkins, Vice President at Carousel Industries, as we visited with Steve Conley, the Director of IT for the Red Sox in his Fenway Park offices.

Carousel has been working closely with the Red Sox since 2003, when as Steve explained it, “We had a Centrex/Hybrid phone system running our call center that was antiquated, and it blew up a few weeks before the season started. Literally! Carousel stepped in and came up big to help us get through the season.” By bringing expertise and specialized manpower to bear, Carousel put a loaner Definity system in place for the 2003 season, and was able to help the Sox address the immediate short-term issues, while buying time to develop a strategy that would allow the organization to begin addressing its long-term priorities and goals while putting in a technology backbone for growth.

“Even though people look at the Red Sox as an New England institution and a nationally recognized brand, we are actually a small company with only 160 full-time employees” explained Conley. “So when Carousel helped implement our new Avaya system, we worked closely with them and relied on their expertise to make sure it enabled us to do things we had never been able to do before.” Carousel worked with the Red Sox team to help identify key objectives and business drivers that the system needed to address, including:

Ensuring the ticketing “Contact Center” system would integrated with the rest of the organization
Making the ticketing system “fair” to allow everyone equal access to tickets
Eliminating busy signals when fans call in – no easy task when there are only 15 call center assets
Defining infrastructure requirements, from necessary T1 bandwidth, to scalability of the network for future growth, to cabling needs in an enormous, 100 year old steel and concrete facility

“Carousel helped put together the strategy and really brought expertise to the table that allowed us to move forward with confidence,” said Conley. Carousel has also worked closely with the Red Sox to make progress on many fronts and keep us with current technology and opportunities. For example, “upgrading to VoIP for the organization and the Contact Center meant upgrading our network backbone to support that initiative. The Carousel relationship has been great, because they have had to be flexible and creative in helping us solve problems and responsive in implementing solutions.”

The Future of Red Sox Nation: Beyond Fenway

Today, the Red Sox are looking at ways to build upon a Unified Communications platform in creative ways to help the organization succeed. Some of the key initiatives we discussed include:

Video

With the proliferation of consumer technology amongst the Red Sox staff, an amazing thing happened. “Our medical team, trainers and coaches started using Apple’s Facetime video calls to collaborate and discuss injuries, assess rehab issues and review player mechanics”, explained Conley. “Obviously this approach, while beneficial, has limitations. However, we quickly saw the opportunities for the organization. Our endgame is now to get a video backbone in place to allow us to securely collaborate over video, with multiple participants from various locations.”
The parks are all being outfitted with video conferencing infrastructure and the new system will connect all the parks, allow for the sharing of MRI information, X-rays and other medical data, while speeding the decision making process and eliminating the need for unnecessary travel.

Unified Communications and ONE-X Mobile

“With Carousel’s help, we are continuing to improve our Unified Communications capability and tie the entire organization together,” explained Conley. As Harkins describes in more detail, “They have voicemail and email coming together on one inbox, and now with the the explosion of smartphones, we are working to implement Avaya’s ONE-X mobile solution. This will enable 4-digit calling on the network, so you can call someone’s extension and know you’ll reach your contact regardless of the device they are on or their location.”

Bob Harkins (Carousel) and Steve Conley (Red Sox) On Deck

As Conley sums it up, “The payoff for this will really come when the season starts and people are everywhere. Regardless of whether they are at spring training, scouting, or traveling for games, they can connect with colleagues like they are sitting at their desk.”

“We appreciate the long term relationships we build with our clients, and the Red Sox are a great example of that,” explains Harkins. “Initially, we were brought in during a crisis. Today, we work closely with Steve and his team to make the most effective decisions for the Red Sox organization regardless of the product or technology. Our engineers understand Steve’s business objectives and we do our best to craft recommendations to achieve those goals. The Red Sox will challenge our team to do better, short and long term. It has proven to be a great partnership over the years, one I’d like to emulate with all of our clients, and we look forward to the next challenge.”

Don’t Forget Mobile Voice In Unified Communications Plans

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There is some new research out about the role of mobile devices in voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) applications that is worth consideration by IT organizations considered broader unified communications solutions.

The report by Juniper Research, “Mobile Voice and Video Calling: Strategic Opportunities and Business Models,” suggests that there will be approximately 640 million mobile VoIP users by 2016. Within that set of users, approximately one-fifth, or about 130 million, will be using mobile video applications, the Juniper Research white paper predicts.

Said Juniper Research analyst Anthony Cox:

“Eventually voice may become one of several options in an environment where multiple methods of communicating are possible on the same platform.”

The implications of this trend are significant for IT organizations in the process of planning or expanding their infrastructure for handling VoIP applications and for broader unified communications solutions.

Chief among those is the fact that even if your company doesn’t offer corporate-sanctioned smart phones or tablets to its employees, it will probably need to support them within the larger context of its unified communications plan. Consider that more than 60 percent of all information workers are mobile at least once or twice in a given week (according to research from Forrester Research) and you can quickly see the ramifications of NOT supporting mobile devices.

What exactly does “support” mean?

From a technical standpoint, probably the most important thing to worry about is seamless switching of a call from one place to another. That means ensuring that calls or communication sessions can be transferred from a IP-connected handset to a personal computer to a mobile phone or tablet. That handoff should be transparent to everyone, meaning that someone initiating a call shouldn’t care where the person they are calling is located at a given moment in time. Likewise, the person receiving the call shouldn’t have to worry about where they are going to be when a specific conference call or videoconference is taking place.

The Juniper Research numbers are underscored by the serious attention that many videoconferencing vendors have paid to supporting mobile platforms this year — tablets or smartphones alike. It’s another illustration of the fact that where and how people work is being transformed dramatically by the mobile technology revolution. Organizations that don’t move quickly to support that revolution could find themselves left behind.