iMessaging Adopts SIP for Call Center Software
Published: May 8, 2007
by Alex Woodie
iMessaging Systems, a developer of software that connects i5/OS applications with telephones, unveiled a new release of its iNspire Call Center Suite last week at the COMMON conference in Anaheim, California. With the new version, iMS has adopted the session initiation protocol (SIP) standard, which will enable its iNspire solution to integrate more easily with voice over IP (VoIP) systems, including the System i IP Telephony solution that IBM and 3Com have put together.
iMS helps companies create voice-enabled applications for their i5/OS servers that include interactive voice response (IVR), intelligent call routing, custom screen pops, automatic call distribution (ACD) queuing, and automated and agent assisted dialing services. Components of the iNspire Suite include the iVoice Call Management Server, which handles the back-end connectivity via APIs for RPG and COBOL applications, Windows-based iAgent and myView programs used by customer service representatives (CSRs) and managers, and a PC-based "telephony controller" for answering incoming calls and recording the messages callers will hear.
For years, iMS designed its solutions to work with traditional Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) telephone systems, either using analog lines or digital T1 lines. But with the rise of cheaper VoIP systems, iMS shifted gears to stay current with technology, and the move to adopt SIP--an application-layer signaling protocol used to create and terminate sessions among two or more participants--is a key technology enabler for hooking into newer VoIP-based telephone systems.
iMS developed support for SIP--a standard maintained by the Internet Engineering Task Force--in its iNspire Suite with assistance from IBM and 3Com, the two technology giants that teamed up to create the all-in-one System i IP Telephony system last year. A SIP version of iNspire version 7.2 was tested against 3Com's VCX running on System i using all the phones, including the basic, managers, and deluxe managers phones.
While the SIP-supported version of iNspire will connect to other VoIP offerings, the capability to run an entire call center system from a single System i has obvious benefits, says Karen Sedlar, chief executive officer of iMessaging, which is based in Merrimack, New Hampshire.
"The integration of data, applications, and telephony on a single platform is a key advantage of System i IP telephony," Sedlar says. "As VoIP systems continue to replace traditional PBX systems, iNspire is well positioned to leverage this emerging technology."
Support for SIP will provide near-term benefits, but the biggest benefits have yet to be realized. In the current iteration, customers will benefit from a higher density of SIP-enabled cards in the external PC voice controller, which will allow customers to use a greater number of telephone lines and support more simultaneous call connections. Down the road, support for SIP will enable iMessaging Systems to bypass the PC voice controller altogether and move to an all-software solution.
It may be a while before iMessaging can bring resource-intensive text-to-speech (TTS) and voice recognition processing into the System i house, however. A good percentage of iMessaging customers are using these technologies (text-to-speech, the easier of the two, is more prevalent), but it may not be a workload that System i shops want to turn loose onto their pricey Power 5 processors. Nuance, iMessaging's voice controller supplier, provides a Linux version of its software, but there is reportedly little demand for certification on the Power processor platform.
Meanwhile, iMessaging is moving its channel activities forward to meet the expected demand for voice-enabled applications as VoIP makes inroads into the market. To that end, at COMMON last week iMessaging launched its Telephony Integration Program (TIP), a new program designed to certify business partners with iNspire and get the partners motivated to sell VoIP-based solutions.
With TIP, iMessaging is trying to make it easy for ISVs and other developers to bake IP telephony straight into their applications. To that end, iMessaging is providing consulting, training, programming assistance, and other forms of technical support. The company is also making its partnership agreements more lucrative in hopes of attracting more business partners to the TIP program.
One partner taking advantage of TIP is VACAVA, a Rochester, Minnesota, company that launched a new i5/OS-based customer care package during last week's PartnerWorld convention in St. Louis, Missouri. "iNspire for the System i insulated our development team from having to deal with complex telephony integration issues, allowing us to deliver a sophisticated, full-function customer support application, which can be installed, set up, and run with minimal IT skills," says Terry Bird, president and chief operating officer of VACAVA.
Other TIP members include VAI (also known as Vormittag Associates), an ERP software developer based in Ronkonkoma, New York, and CIM Strategies, a Woburn, Massachusetts, System i reseller that's one of the top three business partners in the country selling the 3com IP Telephony solution. "We introduce iMessaging into all our IP Telephony opportunities," says Bob Bowen, president of CIM Strategies.
Rich Ollari, iMessaging product manager, is eager to capitalize on the market's interest in the System i IP Telephony solution with the new SIP-based iNspire Suite. "I think there's going to be a groundswell of activity," he says.
The SIP version of the iNspire Call Center Suite is expected to be available soon. Pricing for the suite ranges from the mid $20,000s to more than $150,000. For more information visit www.imessagingsystems.com.
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