Open-source technology has transformed the enterprise-software landscape in the past several years. Offerings such as Linux, OpenOffice and SugarCRM have arrived to bring the cost and quality benefits of community-developed and community-maintained software to almost every business sector.
Call-center operators, looking to slash costs and add powerful new communications and call-support capabilities, aren't immune to open source's lure. Open-source call center platforms based on the Asterisk open-source PBX are now available from several different sources. Here's a look at three of the best.
PBXtra Call Center Edition's standard features include ACD (automatic call distributor) functionality, call queuing, agent call recording, skill-based routing, uploading voice prompts, multiple auto attendants, real-time queue statistics and graphical queue reports. PBXtra Call Center Edition is also available with HUD Agent, a universal contact-management application that provides agent-presence management, whether that agent is in the office or telecommuting. Additionally, supervisors can barge and record or monitor calls in real time, even if they are located in a different country than the agent they are managing.
PBXtra Call Center Edition also includes all the features available in the Standard Edition, such as voice mail to email, music on hold and PSTN (public switched telephone network) fallback. Fonality supports PBXtra Call Center Edition with a variety of free and paid support services, which help customers untangle deployment and ongoing maintenance issues.
A Web-based, open-source call center software platform, asterCRM is compatible with all Asterisk-based VoIP systems, including pure Asterisk, Magiclink IP PBX and Trixbox. The offering includes an impressive array of features, such as inbound and outbound screen pop-ups, click to call, call reject, blind transfers, agent account and rights management, caller ID prefix removal and monitor control. The software also provides several CRM (customer relationship management) -oriented features, such as third-party CRM data integration, dial lists, auto suggestion, call surveys and statistics.
Although powerful and sophisticated, asterCRM can appear cryptic to individuals lacking extensive software and telecom technical expertise. Most businesses considering this software will want to seek outside design and deployment assistance.
One of the first Asterisk-based call centers, VICIDIAL is a set of programs designed to provide a complete inbound/outbound call center software suite. The offering's agent interface is an interactive set of Web pages that works though a Web browser to provide real-time information and functionality with nothing more than a browser on the client computer.
VICIDIAL can function as an ACD for inbound calls. For virtual call centers , the solution allows remote agents to log in from distant locations, including agents who may only be equipped with a phone. The extensive VICIDIAL features list includes integrated call recording, predictive dialing and three-way calling. Also provided are inbound, outbound and blended call handling; broadcast capabilities; scheduled callbacks; and full compliance with Federal Trade Commission rules.
The software suite is designed to work with an Asterisk system that has Zap (T1/E1/PSTN) telco lines or VoIP (IAX or SIP) trunks, as well as many different kinds of softphones and hardphones. The applications are designed to run on top of almost any version of Asterisk, eliminating the need to alter or adapt the Asterisk source code. VICIDIAL is supported by an extensive online knowledge base, including documentation, user/development forums and a wiki.
All of the major open-source call-center solutions are widely supported by skilled software developers focused on meeting the needs of business users rather than a software vendor's corporate interests. With thousands of open-source call centers now in daily use, it's obvious that the technology is rapidly becoming as practical and reliable as commercial call center software offerings.