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Microcomputer Use for Call-Accounting.

Call-accounting and station message detail recording (SMDR) are among the most misunderstood topics in telecommunications. Part of the reason is that much of what is written on the subjects is being provided by vendors who have their own particular point of view to promote.

Before focusing on the fastest-growing segment of call-accounting software for microcomputers, two points should be clarified:

First, SMDR is not call-accounting, it's a PBX or keys system feature that provides, via a reasonably standard EIA RS-232-C port, data known as "all records."

Call records are listings of each outgoing (and sometimes incoming) telephone call. The record contains various fields, including extension dialing, call start-time, digits dialed, trunk used, call duration, and sometimes various other information as requested, but no price is shown.

Call-accounting begins by pricing each telephone call. By reading the first few digits of each call, the call-accounting system computes the distance and rate used. These systems also format the data into various management reports.

Second, there are five general categories of call-accounting systems. They are:

* Stand-Alone Systems--These are single-purpose microcomputers built especially for call-accounting. While some of these systems are intended for use with up to 1,000 or so extensions, most are engineered for systems of 250 phones or less.

* Service Bureaus--More than 40 companies process call-accounting reports at their locations from telco-provided magnetic tapes, customer-provided floppy disks, or remotely polled call-record data drom client PBXs.

* Mainframe Software--These software packages are intended for large-system users (generally more than 450 lines, or several locations of various sizes). Mainframe software differs from microcomputer software less in performance than in application; the mainframe programs are usually run by the data processing department, not by the telecommunications managers.

* Integrated PBX--A few PBX manufacturers have introduced call-accounting software that's built into the cabinet of the switch itself, providing full reports instead of just plain call records.

* Microcomputer Software--Because of the proliferation of low-cost microcomputers, telecommunications managers have been seeking new ways to use these tools to control their departments. Call-accounting software for microcomputers genrally costs from 50 to 80 percent less than mainframe software, but is usually intended for processing records for one location. The microcomputer and software costs together can be compared favorably with the prices for some standalone systems, depending on call-record storage space available and the reporting capabilities.

Apart from price, there are several advantages of microcomputer-based call-accounting for some users:

* Computer Integration--Most companies providing micro software are primarily software companies, not hardware manufacturers, so some are willing to customize their software to allow for its use with other computer systems, such as mainframe billing systems. Few standalone systems makers will write custom software. Instead, they depend on the user to accept a straight serial output and modify the front-end software in the larger computer.

* On-Demand Reports--Most microcomputer packages allow the user to generate many reports within a few minutes at the touch of vew keys. Mainframe and service-bureau users have to wait until the end of the month.

* Customizable Reports--Most microcomputer call-accounting software allows the user to select the call-rating formula, the parameters determining which records will be stored for reports and, in some, the column and row headings in the reports themselves.

* Flexible Call-Rating Modules--Most microcomputer packages allow the user to change their call-costing formulae and/or recalculate call records for the month, by the line used, by destination, or by some other useful method.

* Pollable--Some software packages for micro-based call-accounting allow a headquarters location, for example, to poll a remote microcomputer for either raw or costed call records, or even station and division-level detail and summary reports. Multi-location firms may ned on-site reports for local personnel management and abuse/misuse control, as well as off-site reports for network control and intracompany cost allocation. Some of these systems allow for remote diagnostics and unattended operation.

* Flexible Reports--All of these systems allow the user to request which reports will be printed, and when. Many stand-alones offer this feature, but service bureaus and mainframe users have to fill out forms and/or make phone calls (by someone else's deadline) to request special reports to be added or dropped. And service bureaus charge extra for extra reports beyond the standard package.

* User-Controllable Data Base--Adding to or changing the call-accounting data base (new extensions, trunks, department assignments) is an extra-charge service of many service bureaus. Most software packages have simple procedures for these activities.

* Call-Record Archiving--Users of microcomputer-based call-accounting systems can download a month's call records onto inexpensive floppy disks, allowing fast and easy access to the data for later reprocessing, if necessary.

* Other Applications--Many of the same vendors providing call-accounting software for the IBM-PC, for example, also provide other telemanagement software that integrates with the call-accounting data base. These packages automate such functions as equipmetn cost allocation, cable-records maintenance, equipment and network inventory, and work-order entry and progress reporting.

* Same Vendor--Many micro packages are sold by interconnect firms, opening the posibility of purchasing both the telephone and call-accounting systems from the same vendor. That's especially pleasing to users who now need a separate floppy disk to keep track of all the vendors for the telephones.

While none of these features alone is unique to these new software packages for micros, the combination of advantages is persuading hundreds of companies who are in the market for a call-accounting systems not to buy one--they buy software instead.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Stusser, D.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Oct 1, 1985
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