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Learn what user-friendly really means.


We need to move three agents upstairs pronto," says Telemarketing.

"We need utilization stats on our PCs and modems," says Accounting.

"I need to know all calls to Denver that lasted over 10 minutes last month," says The Boss.

"I need help," you say, knee deep in coffe-stained call detail printouts.

At the entry level and beyond, PC-based software and systems are available to help you maximize your investment in telephone and related equipment.

From basic call accounting to advanced telemanagement and network management, a spate of software releases promises to do nearly everything but pull cable.

But hold on. Before you scarf up off-the-shelf or proprietary your voice or data networks, you'd better ask lots of questions, both of yourself and of you vendors.

Picking A Package

When choosing PC-based telemanagement tools, don't be a sucker for a pretty screen, says Accountant-A-Call President Rick Brutacao.

Picking a call accounting or telemanagement package for its clear, colorful user interface is like choosing a car by "standing on the curb and looking at its color or reading a magazine article about its horsepower," he says.

User friendliness and ease of use are great, but don't confuse the two. A clear, menu-driven user interface means little if you have to pass through five or six screen to produce the report you want. And the easier a package is to learn, the fewer your training headaches.

"Using a PC-based system is not like using WordPerfect or Lotus 1-2-3, where you just jump in and do it," Brutaco says.

You must get data off your buffer on a regular basis and process it in a timely manner, he says, or you'll have problems. companies who can't make this commitment may be better off using a service bureau.

"Most managers aren't telecommunications specialists," he says.

Reports must be arranged to provide meaningful decision-making help to supervisors who see them once a month at most.

Stand-Alone Standoff

Two years ago, many observers felt stand-alones would be replaced by PC-based call accounting products.

"It hasn't happened," says Summa Four's Manager of Product Marketing Mark Leven. Instead, a balance has been struck: High-volume operations like hotels and motels prefer stand-alones for their reliability, while general businness users embrace the processing power of PC-based systems.

In addition, users need to be able to set up models to figure out optimal routing and handle "what if" scenarios in seconds. Now such models can be saved and used again, replacing tedious manual systems.

Facilities management tools go far beyond call management. They keep track of all equipment costs allocated to an individual station or computer equipment to desks and copiers.

CDR (call detail recording) capabilities haven't changed much, says Leven. "What has changed is how users use them."

As the telephone becomes a more important business tool, dedicated software packages help companies hone their "customer contact" edge.

"Users are looking for more sophistication," says Leven. "They don't want a set of canned reports any more. They say, 'I want to be able to take this data and manipulate it in a way particular to my business.'"

Products like Dallas-based CHI/COR Information Management Inc.'s Communications Resource Management System (CRMS) meet the above criteria. Available on an IBM PC or most LANs, CRMS costs between $9500 and $45,000 depending on license options.

Network Management

Usually, the more generic a stand-alone PC product, the less it does.

Buying an off-the-shelf software package to manage one vendor's equipment is hardly a realistic option. At most such products offer a colorgraphic based picture of the system. And very few networks are made up of one piece of equipment.

At the other extreme, integrated management products like IBM's NetView and AT&T'S Accumaster satisfy user's urge to see everything in their network on a single screen. But they show little more than events and alarms.

They can tell you "something's wrong with your link to Chicago," but not what the problem is, Operating at the mainframe level, these approaches can furthermore require network management investments of several hundred thousand dollars.

Mark Luzak, consultant liaison with Infotron, sees a "general confusion" in users about what they're really getting in an integrated network management system.

"Think of these as a network security guard," says Luzak. "A security guard at a bank is just a guy who sits there and watches people come in. He sees what's going on, but he's not really the guard."

Actual security comes from behind the scenes, he says, in the form of bullet-proof windows, computerized door-entry systems and closed-circuit cameras.

"For network management today," Luzak says, "the people who are building individual T1 multiplexer networks with a modem management system are the ones who have the expertise in those products to give you the level of detail and troubleshooting that you need."

What To Look For

Sources say these capabilities are musts in PC-based management products:

* Event managment. Ability to respond to network events.

* Configuration management. Ability to store, upload anddownload configurations so that every parameter which the device will suport may be set from the management system, implemented down to the device, and reconfigured at will.

* Network partitioning. Ability to segment the network. Useful in adding remote managment.

* Integrated monitoring, database, and testing capabilities.

In addition, you should be able to generate any telemanagement report whenever you need i. Most Pc-based system offer this advantage.

Before buying, check the seller's reputation for support. Look for at least an 800 customer-service number, says Account-A-Call's Brutaco. If the company fail to update rate and tariff databases regularly, your investment soon will be worhtless.

Look for smooth interfaces to related applications. a call-accounting system is a natural tie-* to general ledger and human resources systems, for example. Direct links eliminate the need to re-key information manually.

Multifunction products also set you split out their costs to various user department. LAN-based systems let users in various departments share disk-hungry call records and other information by keeping such data on file servers instead of at a stand-alone PC.

Compromise Likely

Most users porbably will be served by a combination of standardized management interfaces like Net View, UNMA, SNMP (for LANs), and OSI (for WAN$) and proprietary management products.

OSI, for example, which Micom Manager of X.25 Marketing Olaf Nielson expects will be a key for WAN integration, allows users to plug in interfaces to specific systems.

There will be gaps, however. Inventory management, for instance, is "not covered at all" in the OSI model, he says.

At the same time, OSI-based systems are becoming so overdesigned that the average user may not be able to afford them. OSI-compliant management software from major players may cost several hundred thousand dollars, driving users to look for workstation-based proprietary systems with optional OSI interfaces.

A bigger hurdle that standardization may come from LAN-WAN integration. WHile LAN equipment manufacturers like Newbridge Networks and cisco Systems add WAN bridges and wide-area-networking experts like Micom are adding LAN interfaces, Nielson sees no vendors tackling true LAN-WAN integration.

On the bright side, PC-based telemanagement tools are getting easier to use.

"Withing two or three years," says Nielson, "most management systems will be completely graphics- and mouse-driven."

This, he maintains, will giver users more intuitive control.

"You're going to see more integration in these devices," from CPE- to CO-based phone systems, predicts Summa Four's Leven.

Users will have more call accounting capabilities built into their CPE systems, accessible by hitting a few buttons, Leven says.

As ISDN becomes available, the sophistication also will be available from central offices.

In the meantime, know your needs and your vendors' capabilites when picking PC-based tools.

"A lot of times people look for a system to solve all their problems," says Harold Sloss, director of sales for Telco Research.

"A system is nothing more than a tool that helps you bring about whatever strategy you have in place for managing your network," he says. Without a viable network management plan, no software or hardware in the world will do your job for you.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes a related article on some smart questions to ask; microcomputer-based telecommunications software
Author:Jesitus, John
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jun 1, 1990
Previous Article:Tune in to AM/FM: PC-based auto-mapping/facilities management.
Next Article:Machine takes routine calls.

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