Metro?s answer was to migrate to IP, beginning with the paratransit contact center, followed by the branch connections, and later for its main contact center and other offices as opposed to upgrading its PSTN-based systems. It replaced its PSTN-only switches, Nortel Option 11Cs, with three Nortel CS1000s that support both IP and PSTN, and shifted the voicemail system from the older Nortel Octel to its Call Pilot software. It deployed a CS1000E as its main system at the administrative office, plus at the two line-haul garages and a CS1000B at the paratransit garage.
The CS1000B supplies IP-transported calls to paratransit reservations agents. It also provides recording over both IP and PSTN for all Metro operations and offices.
The agency then implemented Nortel?s Symposium Express for contact center management. It provides new capabilities including skills-based call routing, monitoring and recording, and workforce management. It also configured the same Symposium solution to support both the paratransit and the general customer service contact centers.
The installation and cutover went smoothly over three months in spring 2008 and went live in June. This took longer than expected because it included moving the administrative office switch to the Metro?s new administrative office building.
?The biggest challenge we faced was cleaning up all of the documentation regarding the different phone switches,? recalls Harrington. ?The responsibility of the phone system changed hands over the last couple of years such that knowledge and documentation was not consistent. This new phone switch is more of a computer system and is now being managed by the IT department.?
The IP and call recording systems have been implemented smoothly, with no glitches. The contact center agents and the supervisors required less than two hours to get trained on and used to the new systems.
?The Symposium Express did prompt our contact center agents to arrive to their shifts on time and sharpen their performance,? says Harrington. ?The older system could not keep accurate track of their logins, which meant they could show up late and their supervisors would not know it, unless there was a surge in calls.?
Sometime in 2009 Cincinnati Metro will switch from PSTN T1s to IP VPNs. The garages will then migrate to IP as the data network wiring already exists. The agency hopes in the next few years to move the rest of its office voice handling to IP.
The IP project has cost approximately $250,000 with payback in four to five years. Metro is achieving this by cutting $40,000/year on line costs. It also obtained a $50,000 savings by not having to purchase additional contact center management software and a $20,000 reduction over buying new recording servers.
?Implementing IP-based telephony was, and is, a worthwhile endeavor for Metro,? concludes Harrington. ?The additional capabilities afforded, along with the consolidation of networks, for more flexibility in meeting the daily demands of the work force. This affords the IT department easier management of the converged voice and data network.?
Brendan B. Read is an author specializing in communications technology, contact centers/CRM, telework and transportation.
IP From Dialing to Receiving
Richard Grigonis, executive editor, Internet Telephony magazine, offers this step-by-step routing description of an IP call:
* An analog voice signal from a caller on a conventional PSTN phone is sampled and digitized by a digital signal processor or DSP or its equivalent into a pulse code modulation stream. Using conventional analog phones with a VoIP service typically involves plugging the phone into an analog telephone adapter that is plugged into the broadband modem (or into a router which is then plugged into the cable modem). Or you may be using an all-purpose ?residential gateway? that is voice-enabled with software. Actual IP phones such as an AASTRA can be plugged directly into your router or cable modem.
* The digitized voice signal is generally fashioned into high-level data link control) frames, compressed and integrated into voice packets.
* Each packet is given a ?header,? which contains the source and destination IP address.
* The packets are sent into the packet-switched network, where routers and switches read the addresses, guide the packets to their appropriate destination, ?hoping? from one network node (router) to another. The individual packets comprising the audio stream may take different routes from node to node over the network, since routers ?ping? each other periodically to determine which network paths are congested or open and each packet is forwarded along the ?best? route at that moment.