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Technology enables IP-based call centers without IP PBXs

Rockwell FirstPoint is enabling call centers with IP-based call routing and distribution without installing costly IP PBX systems. The offering gives companies a taste of VoIP, and an analyst says it helps build the business case for the technology.

Voice over Internet Protocol is making baby steps into call centers, and now one of the veteran call center vendors is helping companies take baby steps toward VoIP.

The new features in Rockwell FirstPoint Contact Corp.'s FirstPoint Business Edition allow companies to harness some of the value of VoIP before they take the costly step of swapping out their traditional private branch exchange (PBX) telephone system for an IP PBX.

The product enables call centers with IP-based call routing and distribution, as well as enhanced reporting ability, said Michael Sheridan, director of product strategy for the Wood Dale, Ill.-based contact center vendor.

But perhaps the most important benefit of the product is its ability to extend VoIP to remote call centers. Katrina Howell, program leader for contact center technology research with the San Antonio-based research firm Frost & Sullivan, said that companies can cut costs significantly by using VoIP to connect to remote call centers.

With a switched approach, Howell said, companies need to invest in hardware, point-to-point connections, telecommunications services and the cost of both a voice and data technician. With VoIP, many of those costs disappear.

That is the kind of argument needed to make companies consider VoIP, said Lori Buckland, vice president of Morris Plains, N.J., consulting firm Vanguard Communications Corp. Features are never going to be enough to drive companies -- and particularly mission-critical call centers -- to VoIP. There needs to be a business case as well, she said.

While this is something that may make sense for the remote market, the incremental approach for VoIP may make less sense in other places. Sheridan said that companies may use a product such as this for internal help desks as a way to test VoIP before deploying it to the call center. But Buckland said he wonders; if companies plan to expand VoIP through the company, why they wouldn't just buy a VoIP system from Cisco Systems Inc. or Avaya Inc.? They would likely go with a system that scales to meet the needs of the entire enterprise, she said.

Nonetheless, Rockwell is following on the heels of its competitors with this product. Others in the market, such as Aspect Communications Corp., already have similar products on the market.

Over time, as call centers make the inevitable shift to VoIP, Howell said, companies such as Rockwell will become application vendors. This is an early step in that direction.

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