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State Government Interfaces Call-Accounting Microcomputer to Mainframe Billing System.

Most large organizations use a mini or mainframe computer to allocate general overhead costs to various departments or projects. And most large users of telephone services use call-accounting systems to control long-distance expenses.

The problem many managers face is getting what are usually two separate systems to work together.

The State of Utah, while facing some challenges unique to governments, in many ways typifies the example of a large company or university in its efforts to include telephone-call detail records from a new PBX in the overall internal computerized chargeback system.

In order for the state to charge interstate long-distance calls from its main Centrex system back to the various agencies and departments, a station message detail recording (SMDR) tape is processed through the state telecommunications billing system, which consists of several software packages operating on an IBM 3081 mainframe computer. The software also computes costs associated with telephone equipment and other charges and credits.

The telecommunications billing system is integrated with the state's central interdepartmental billing and funds transfer system. That system, the Financial Information and Resource Management System (FIRMS), is comparable in its operation to a corporate central accounting system.

Most Agencies Served by Centrex

Most Utah state agencies are served by a Mountain Bell Centrex system, but when teh state leased space for several agencies at Salt Lake City's Triad Center, the state installed a 250-line Ztel PNX from FirsTel Information Systems, a subsidiary of US West. The problem: how to use SMDR data from this switch in the state telecommunications billing system so the costs could be procesed through FIRMS. FirsTel presented the state telecommunications division, the group responsible for selection and maintenance of the state's network and systems, with several call-accounting options.

"Originally, we were going to install a stand-alone call-accounting system," recalls Craig Jorgensen, state telecommunications manager. "The problem with that approach was that we could not go in and extract the data in a format that could be used in our existing billing system. The only thing the stand-alone system could produce were bills in hard-copy. We would have had to go back and manually re-enter all of that data from the hard-copy into the telecommunications billing system."

Call-Accounting Software

The solution Jorensen and Kent Prows, telecommunications programmer, selected was call-accounting software supplied by Xiox Corporation of San Mateo, California, for an IBM PC-XT microcomputer. Because of the specific nature of the state's requirements, Xiox wrote some additional programs that proces the PBX call records into a format that can be used along with the Centrex tapes in the state telecommunications billing system.

The custom software the vendor added to its Tele-Times system software allows the microcomputer to perform the basic call-accounting functions of collecting, pricing and sorting calls, as well as exptracting and preparing the records for further processing, first in a Wang VS100 minicomputer to make the conversion from ASCII to EBCDIC, then into the IBM mainframe for the telecomunications billing system.

An interesting facet of the Triad installation is its interconnection with the state government's Centrex system. Because the telecommunications division wanted to take advantage of the system's interestate long-distance network, it ordered three tie trunks between the PBX and the automatic route selector of the Centrex to handle interstate traffic. Apart from the novelty of connecting the two systems, the division had to deal with duplicate call records--all the interstate calls from the Triad location would appear on the Centrex billing tape as well as in the PBX output.

On-Site System Was Needed

These records on the tape aren't useful in the statewide billing system because they appear only sa tie trunk calls. They don't identify the station user, so these records can't be used to bill the user's department. For this reason, the on-site call-accounting system was needed for this site.

Programmers in the telecommunications division have written a program in the telecommunications billing software that eliminates from the tape those call records made on the three tie trunks to the PBX. Call records from the SMDR port of the PBX, having been processed by the Tele-Times software, replace these Centrex records and then they are are merged in the telecommunications billing software.

Programmer Prows is pleased with the solution to the problem of merging the PBX call records with the Centrex records. "The software allows us to bill the agencies at the Triad complex the same way we do users at other locations, pricing calls at 85 percent of AT&T direct-dial rates," he reports. The software "allows us to get both local immediate reports as well as be able to use the data in a remote, batched mode in our mainframe application," Prows adds.

In addition to the monthly chargeback reports generated by the mainframe telecommunications billing system, the microcomputer software also provides a wide variety of custom and standard call-detail and summary reports on demand, such as extension detail reports, trunk summaries, busy-hour reports, and exception reports.

One feature of the microcomputer call-accounting software is its ability to examine each call record as it is sent from the PBX to the microcomputer and decide whether to delete it from the data base, store it one disk, print it immediately on an attached printer, or store and print it. With most PBXs, the softwae chooses between these options based on parameters such as digits dialed, duration of call or price of the call.

"Condition Codes" Available

The PBX adds a higher degree of sophistication to call records in an extra column labeled "condition codes." These codes provide information such as time call was held in queue, whether caller attempted to dial on a restricted line, intercom calls and internal paging calls. Many of thee types of calls don't cause most other PBXs to generate a call record, while some of the condition codes provide information not available in standard call records from other PBXs.

The software is user-programmable to screen call records based on both the PBX condition codes and the other standard call-record fields.

Prows recalls "one agency that wanted us to track a certain extension's phone calls, and if a call was for more than a specified period fo time, flag it." The software was configured to print those calls and the agency stopped requesting the reports after the first week of its management of the problem.

"The thing that's nice about the software is its ability to report on calls even if they (interstate long-distance) aren't reported to the state telecommunictions billing system," Prows observes, explaining that some managers are interested in seeing reports on intra-PBX, local and intrastate calls that do not appear on the monthly bills from the mainframe.

Another time the software was used for a non-billing purpose was when the telecommunications division collected all incoming and outgoing call records for a wek for a traffic study. At the same time, a parallel PC was set up to collect only the call records for the billing system.

Utah Installation Is Unique

Because call-accounting is useful for a variety of purposes, including expense recovery, control of telephone usage, personnel management and system/network management, most large telephone system users now use some form of call-accounting reports. Because of the state's billing application and connection to the Centrex, the Utah installation is reported to be somewhat unique. Historically, the only thing people may have thought call-accounting was good for was catching somebody in toll-abuse. Now call-accounting has come of age; it's viewed as a valuable management tool.

Utah has gone a step further than many business customers, using systems that would allow a company to turn the telecommunications department into a profit center. The state will be installing several more PBXs over the next year, Manager Jorgensen reports, and plans to install remotely pollable call-record storage systems at each location, so that each location's call records can be merged into the state telecommunications billing system.

In addition, it plans to purchase software that also will manage telephone equipment inventory, cable records, moves and changes, work orders and directory.
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Publication:Communications News
Date:Oct 1, 1985
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