ShoreTel ECC Integrated Tool Bar

The ShoreTel Contact Center or Enterprise Contact Center product development effort has and continues to be a “process” not an “event”.     That is what characterizes software development efforts in general.   You have to know where to draw the line and make a supportable release.     New features are always being added to any evolving product, but knowing when to package up what we have in the process, document it and be able to support it, is what characterizes a new release.    ShoreTel 4.66.07 and Version 8.1 of the ShoreTel IPBX enabled the stable, sustainable release of an integrated Agent tool bar.  (The current Release of ShoreTel ECC is Version 5 is more fully matured)   In prior releases, you had the ShoreTel Personal Call Manager (e.g. PCM)  for your PBX requirements and a separate “Agent” tool bar for your Contact Center requirements.   Today, you can implement a Contact Center with an “Integrated Agent Tool Bar” that combines both interfaces into a single GUI.  

 For those of you familiar with the ShoreTel Workgroup Call Manager will see an immediate resemblance between the new ShoreTel Integrated Tool Bar and the old workgroup toolbar.    Where it might have said Workgroup on the PCM, it now says Contact Center.   You can program tool bar options for “Wrap of Codes” and “Release with Codes”.   Under the Contact Center, supervisors get a range of options that include all of the individual components that make up the various ECC modules.   The only disadvantage that I can find at this time, is that with the standalone Agent Tool Bar, you are able to “write” to the status line of the Agent Tool Bar.  I have not yet been able to do that with the Integrated toolbar, but that is a small price to pay for having a single GUI to manage at the agent desktop.   Using the Agent toolbar alone also enable you to create an environment in which you can have a day shift and a night shift using the same telephone extension.   Changing the log in of a ShoreTel PCM is not a straight forward “user” type process and for that reason, you might elect not to use the integrated toolbar.   Otherwise, take a look, it is an amazing technology and a significant step forward for the product line.  As I said, “development is a process not an event”, so we should expect continue incremental improvements from the ShoreTel ECC team!



Memorial Day and ShoreTel Holiday Greetings Schedules!

It happens every year, every holiday at exactly the same time.  Usually, at 4PM the day before the “holiday” that everyone know was coming, your entire client base calls to ask you how to change the Automated Attendant for a holiday greeting!  One of the features that every ShoreTel System Administrator truly appreciates is a fully automagic Automated Attendant! The means it knows when it is a holiday and it changes the greeting automatically!  ShoreTel does a really great job with this feature. You can set up your entire holiday schedule for the year and then forget about it. Each Automated Attendant can have a schedule applied to it that can even include Custom or half days.  You can record a generic holiday greeting:  “You have reached at a time when we are close for the holiday”, which saves you the effort of having to record a special greeting for each holiday, but the schedule can automate the entire process and save your service organization a lot of time repeating the programming instructions!  In fact, we have recorded the instructions we have given them so often.  We have an automated holiday greeting that says “press 1 if you are calling to learn how to change your holiday greeting”!

Have a great Memorial Day holiday and remember that this is weekend is not all about life at the beach.   Memorial day is the day we honor those who did not come home;  those who gave their life in the service of their country so that we could enjoy the tremendous benefits of living in America.

ShoreTel holiday schedule

New family of ShoreTel SG voice enabled switches!

ShoreTel has a family of new media gateways. The more interesting switches are referred to as SGV switches. There is an SG50V and an SG90V that differ only in the number of FXO and FXS ports that they support. What makes these switches (i.e. media gateways) so interesting is that they have a LINUX kernel built in to support a Compact Flash Card which enables localized Automated Attendant and Voice Mail. In the world of ShoreTel’s “single image solution” we have the concept of a DVM (e.g. Distributed Voice Mail sever. The DVM are typically deployed at remote sites and, as explained in previous blog, provide for a level of resiliency (not redundancy) in your multi-site solution. More importantly, as the DVM enables Voice Mail and Automated Attendant to be localized at a remote site, it keeps these bandwidth intensive functions off your very expensive WAN.

For example, if I have a New York HQ site with users, media gateways and workgroup services; I might have a North Carolina remote site with a DVM, media gateways and users. Workgroups are currently NOT a distributed service, so any workgroup functions will require the HQ server. However, in North Carolina I can assign the users at that site to Voice Mail boxes on the DVM at that site. Callers to telephone lines that terminate on media gateways at that remote site will be answered with an Automated Attendant that lives on that remote DVM, eliminating the need to stream that media across the very expensive WAN. (Note: historically the media stream was G711 as it originated from the server regardless of the Inter-site codec. Recent release of ShoreTel enable a HQ media gateway to proxy the media stream enabling the use of the lower bandwidth Inter-site code). Should the DVM at the remote site fail, the HQ server would take over for the remote site. In this way VM and AA are still provide to the remote users.

The new SG50V and SG90V are typically used as replacements for or instead of a DVM at a remote site. The question arises as to what would happen if you added an SG50V or SG90V to a remote site under the control of a DVM? One would argue that it would make no sense to install these media gateway in that scenario. In the ShoreTel architecture it is important to note that DVM’s fail upward. For this reason we might install the SGV media gateway as a new site under the remote site. So in this example we might install a new site under North Carolina and put the SGV media gateway in that new site. Then we might move all the users at the North Carolina site to the new SGV media gateway for voice mail and automated attendant. In this way, the SVG should it fail, would have its services picked up by the North Carolina DVM; which in turn should it fail, would have all services picked up by the HQ server.

The new SGV switches are very interesting building blocks for the ShoreTel architecture and should be studied in some detail. They also might indicate a move by ShoreTel away from both Microsoft and VxWorks. This is only conjecture on my part and not based on any fact other than that we which can all observe. ShoreTel has dropped the Microsoft Access Database in favor of the MySQL database engine. Clearly this could be just a cost cutting move. However, the SGV switches, do not have VxWorks, they have a Linux kernel. Taken together these may in fact be an indication of a product road map that is moving steadily toward a total Linux based solution.  (Click here if Video does not load).

ShoreTel Linux Based Voice Switches

Deploying the ShoreTel Personal Call Manager through AD Group Policy!

Installing a ShoreTel IPBX solution is a process not an event. I have previously published a book entitled “VoIP System Planning Guide” that can be download from the DrVoIP site. This guide covers the basics for planning and managing a VoIP deployment in general and a ShoreTel solution in particular. The “devil is in the details” however and though the process can be understood, the individual tasks required to complete the process generally prove there is no substitute for hands on experience!

Every installation technician comes to that fork in the road that deals with the deployment of the ShoreTel Personal Call Manager software. Deploying the actual telephone instruments is a pure act of labor, but the Personal Call Manager is an act of commitment! Each desktop in the installation will need to be touched by someone, and I do not consider an installation complete until the Call Managers are deployed and operational. There is a component of this effort that involves interVLAN routing, (e.g. getting from the desktop data network to the phone server), but I am now focused exclusively on the actual installation of the PCM software.

There are three strategies that are generally employed to accomplish this. The first strategy is obviously to visit each desktop with a DVD or Thumb drive and load the software! For the installer this is very labor intensive and requires that the install have administrative desktop privileges or maybe even domain privileges. The second option, is to push the software out to the desktops through and email link set from the ShoreTel Director portal to each ShoreTel user. This is a bit less labor intensive, but it still requires the desktop users to have administrative installation rights to their own desktop computers. Most large IT environments do not grant this privilege to plain vanilla users!

The third option, however, has the most promise as being both labor economical while maintaining network security. We can create and Active Directory Group Policy to push the PCM out to the user and have it installed without user involvement. To do this you will need to create a few objects, modify the organization unit containing the computers and users that will be effected by the new group policy. (Refer to Microsoft Knowledge base article 816102). First you create a Distribution point; the create a Group Policy Object, assign a package and then publish your installation package. This strategy is the preferred implementation practice for deployments of any scale and installation technicians should become familiar with the basics of implementing this solution. We will publish a video on both the blog and the DrVoIP site that will demonstrate this solution.

ShoreTel Enterprice Contact Center Skills Based Routing!

The ShoreTel Enterprise Contact Center provides for “Skills Based Routing” an often confusing and misunderstood feature. It is important to note that this function might not achieve the desired result as it is only effective when there is more than one Agent available to accept a call. Lets take an obvious skill, like a Language requirement and assume that our call center needs both English and French speaking customer service representatives. We can assign a skill level to French, but we might not achieve the desired result. If we want to make sure that French callers get connected to French speaking Customer Service Agents, we might consider some other selection options.

For example we could use an Automated Attendant to select English or French and then route to the correct Agent Group. We might also use an IVR application to do a database dip, if they are an existing client, to determine their language preference. Finally, you might have separate DNIS numbers for each language required. These options will achieve the desired result, where “skills based” routing may not.

If we choose to use “skills base routing” as our best fit strategy, first we need to activate skills based routing. This is a system level option and you will find it as the SKILLS tab in entities under system. Each skill gets a value that indicates the minimum level of skill required to process the call. This means that a fluent native language speaker might get a FRENCH SKILL value of 100%. Another agent might get a 75% rating meaning that they have a language proficiency but equal to that of a native speaker. The “skill’ has a minimum value requirement of 75%.

Agents in turn are assigned two values. The first value defines the ability with respect to the requirement. In this example, someone would have to have between 100-75% as a French speaking skill. The second value would be a “preference” value. In this case the expression “preference” is an indication of how much the Agent likes to work with this skill and not your preference for selecting that Agent. This is a very important factor.

Lets assume we have Agent A and Agent B. The selection process is based on the product of the Agents value and preference subtracted from the required skill. The lower the value is most likely to be selected. Agent A has a 50% skill value and a 100% preference; Agent B has a 75% value and a 75% preference. Remembering that we have set 75% as the minimum skill required to handle this call, the arithmetic works like this: Agent A would be (75%- (50X100/100) = 25. Agent B would be (75% – (75×75/100) = 18.75 and as a result Agent B would be selected to handle this call. Again remember that the best fit is only applied when there is more than one Agent to select from! Thus skill based routing ensures that higher skilled Agents in a Group get calls before lower skilled Agents. Under heavy call volume, the skills have less of an effect, so keep this in your thinking when planning to achieve the desired result.

ShoreTel Contact Center Call Select or Agent Select

Agent Call Select OptionsConfiguring a ShoreTel ECC is better understood if we start from the Agent and work back to the caller. In the ShoreTel Enterpriser Contact Center we first define Agents whom we then assign to Groups which are generally the “destination” of a Services. Services are reached through entry points referred to as an IRN or Internal Routing Numbers. The IRN is connected through the PBX via TAPI to the DNIS dialed by the caller. Services can also have Destinations of Scripts which might be an IVR application or database dip to obtain additional customer or routing information.

Agents have both a Call Answer Strategy and a Call Select Strategy. We can search for an Agent based on which Agent has been idle the longest; Terminal, Circular or Best Skill Fit. This is defined at the Service level as “Agent Search Criteria”. What happens, however, if an Agent is a member of multiple Groups and an opportunity exists to have a called present to that Agent from all the Groups that the Agent is a member of? How do we determine which call from which Group should be presented to the Agent? This is where the “Call Select” strategy kicks in. We can assign a primary rule and a secondary rule. The rule can then define if the Call should be selected by the Longest Wait Time; by the Priority of the Call (set as the result of a previous Script or as assigned by the IRN when the call entered the system); and lastly by the “Best Skill Fit”.

Skills-based routing will be discussed in a later blog, but suffice it to say that the Enterprise Contact Center has a superior feature set at a price point that puts this contact center in its own product space. Knowing how to implemented the Call Center should not be left to OJT personnel! Get an implementation team that knows the difference between a ‘dress rehearsal’ and a ‘take’.

Live Answer or Autoamted Attendant?

The genius mathematician and founder of the area we know as Cybernetics, Norbert Wiener coined the phrase “the human use of human beings”. Writing post WW2, his frame of reference was societies growing concern with automation. The concept should now be understood as “using computers to free humans for more productive work”. So when we encounter an automated attendant or “robot receptionist”, we should remember that the repetitive work of greeting, screening, routing, message retrieval and message acquisition are sometimes best done by a machine. We are often asked when setting up a new phone system if we should use “live operator’ or an “automated attendant”. It has been my experience that quality call handling is best done by a human and I would go with live answer. There is a trade off however and here is how you might manage that trade off.

It is generally recognized, unfortunately, that seven out of ten phone calls to our place of business are not clients! They are friends, family, vendors and generally people who know exactly who they want to speak with. If we could free up our human receptionist to answer client calls, the thinking is that we might make both a more efficient call processing mode and at the same time make a much better “first impression”. For this reason, we encourage clients to setup up a “side door” that is always answered by an Automated Attendant. Publish a phone number to “insiders” that routes them through the automated attendant. Publish the company’s main number only to clients. Hopefully this will free the human receptionist to give quality call handling to the most important callers, your clients as that person is now free of the other 7 out of 10 calls.

Trends – Part 3 The Growth of WiMax

The key word in wireless is “mobility”. Broadband wire line, WiFi, WiMax and even dial-up are technology enablers that provide a solutions for the increasing need to be “connected”. There are issues with each one: broadband service can be expensive, depending on the provider, and it certainly isn’t available in many rural areas; WiFi has very limited range, again limiting coverage, and dial-up is simply slow and can’t come close to meeting requirements for today’s applications. WiMax has gone through a number of changes and with the introduction of WiMax 4G promises to be a viable solution for PBX connectivity independent of location. Ultimately, a network of connected WiMAX towers will drive the deployment of an 802.20-based Global Area Network (GAN), closely resembling cellular networks, but with far fewer towers required to provide the same coverage. This will allow true ubiquitous access across the country or region, providing bandwidth comparable to cable Internet service, at the very least.

The concept of “fixed mobile convergence” moves form concept to reality with WiMax. The ability to move freely from your office PBX extension to your cellular phone number, completely transparently and seamlessly brings the “mobility” functionality into high relief. Companies like ShoreTel already have location based services that enable a PBX telephone extension user to have calls manipulated based on location. Simply stated, when I am in the office my cell phone is a PBX extension, when I am out of the office my PBX extension is a cell phone number. This is completely transparent and requires no change in the users call handling methods. The network sorts it all out for your you.

In today’s market, dual mode phones are already available. I my self use an Apple IPhone (seach “ShoreTel iPhone” on for video presentation which is a dual mode phone. In the office the iPhone links automatically with our in-house network using an 802.11g WAP. I can retrieve my email, for example, through the wireless access point. When I am outside the office, I can sync with my email using the AT&T cellular network. In the office I have a SIP softphone running on my iPhone and it becomes my PBX extension. When leaving the office, using the ShoreTel “office anywhere” functionality, my iPhone cellular number becomes my PBX extension. This technology will mature with the growing acceptance and availability of WiFI in general and WiMax in particular. As a result, PBX applications will become hardware independent and provide feature functionality that is geographically and device independent.

Trends – Part 2 the impact of SIP

Lets take a look at the impact of SIP – Aide from the pure technology play, SIP represents a fundamental change in the economics of the telecommunications market. The carriage of telecommunications has been in transition with a steady migration for distance sensitive to usage sensitive pricing. Historically there where three components of the cost of a telephone call: origination, interexchange (e.g. Inter-LATA) and termination. The US telecommunications market has been moving toward a consolidation of service providers. Local Exchange Carriers (LEC) and competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) is becoming as consolidated and the Inter-Exchange (IXC) carriers. Where do we draw the line on Enhanced Service Providers?

Generally, throughout the rest of the planet, telecommunications services are still owned and operated by government monopolies. Rural telecommunications for much of the planet is predicated on the payment of termination fees. If your favorite telephone company wants to interconnect with your parents in another country, they must pay a termination fee to the phone company in that country. This is not unlike the model of a US based LEC paying the IXC who paid a fee to terminate your phone call in another LEC. A complex price model and tariff structure exists even with the current “bucket of minutes” concepts borrowed from the wireless carriers.

At issue here is the impact of SIP phone calls made through the internet, both public and private. With the growing acceptance of SIP trunking and the development of E164, internet alternative carriage is also pressuring the move from TDM to VoIP. The Electronic Numbering Mapping System (ENUM) provides users with, what marketing people would call “experiential compatibility”. Being able to dial a phone numbers in the manner that users have become comfortable is absolutely essential to the success of the migration to and the adoption of VoIP solutions. SIP and ENUM work together to accomplish this.

The impact on the economics of telephony services is dramatic, both at the infrastructure level and and at the usage level. The cost of building packet switch networks, like the cost of build out wireless networks requires significantly less capital investment. The cost to the users will certainly not be distance based; but access and bandwidth based. SIP also provides for the increased use of multimedia communications solutions, also a bandwidth intensive application.

Trends in the PBX equipment market – Part 1

From time to time a new technology comes along that causes a dramatic paradigm shift with significant economic impact. As it relates to the customer premise telecommunications world, there are a number of trends that have the potential of dramatically altering the telecom equipment market place.   Many industry executives have witnessed the switching equipment transition from electro-mechanical technology to solid state and stored program control switching. Clearly the migration from circuit switch to packet switched technology is reaching Tsunami proportions.  So what happens next?  There are three trends coming into high relief on the technology adoption radar screen  that will have significant impact on the telecommunications marketplace, the economics of the marketplace and ultimately define the employment requirements in that market place.  I would summarize and simplify these trends as the commoditization of PBX hardware; the increased acceptance of SIP and the explosion of high speed wireless technology.  The next few blogs will briefly examine each of these trends at the 100,000 foot level.

This blog will take a look at the commoditization of PBX hardware.  Unlike circuit switched technology, packet switched communications demands that the enormous economic investment necessary to the creation of high speed digital signal processing and the supporting semi-conductor technology be rewarded with high volume production.  Production is a factor of demand and to increase demand, prices must be continually reduced.  This reduction in price is achieved in large part by the adoption of the core technology by a wider base of equipment designers.   This is an economic over simplification for purposes of blogging, but  you do not need an MBA in economics to understand why the  Apple Mac is now built on Intel chip technology.   Nor do you need an MBA in marketing to understand the challenge of trying to convince an increasingly savvy consumer market that your brand of laptop is better than the other guys laptop brand!

As goes the PC hardware market, so goes the media gateway market.  Demand for gateway interoperability will make it increasingly more difficult to differentiate one box of DSP’s from another.   For this reason telephone system manufactures will have to make a fundamental decision:  are we in the the hardware business or are we in the software business?  Are we planning to become the low cost, high performance provider of the VoIP building blocks?  Or are we focusing on the applications (read software) that drive the need for building blocks?   It is my assertion that you can not do both and be successful.   A free market place will demand that “PBX” hardware be separated from “PBX” software.   

Consequently, the skill sets of VARs will be tested yet again.   With the transition form TDM to VoIP, traditional PBX vendors had to develop network engineering expertise.  In the near future, before many VARS have made this first transition, they will be asked to make yet another transition.  Application level software integration expertise will become the underlying skill set demanded of the more successful VAR.   So are you in the business of who can sell a ShoreTel SGT1 cheaper than CDW? Or are you in the business of executing the delivery of underlying technology and application solutions?  Both the supply chain and the distribution channel will once again be redefined and that only question remaining is: just how fast will this transition occur?