Today, "CT" means adding computer-based intelligence to the making and receiving of phone calls and other complex transactions. But just add on the current fascination with the Internet, wireless communications, and a new breed of packet and circuit-switch hybrids -- and "CT" emerges as the catch phrase for everything good about modern telecommunications.
CT is Computer TelephonyComputer Telephony manifests the idea of voice and data convergence. Where? CT lives in bank-by-phone systems that play out digitized voice prompts when you transfer money from savings to checking. CT lives when you leave a voice message for a co-worker. CT lives when you're prompted by an enhanced call routing system. It lives in auto attendants and automated collect calls. There's no escaping it. Has it seen its day? No more than the PC has. Besides, CT has been around longer than PCs. Web-based unified messaging is but one modern example of how CT is not only keeping up with advances in technology, but actually defining the leading edge. Face it -- being able to get your voice messages, e-mails, and faxes from anywhere will be cool for some time to come.
CT is Customer-Centric Technology
Take orchestrated screen pops linked to customer records so live agents know who's calling and what for. Nothing beats having a total view of customer relationships -- backed by CRM (customer relationship management) discipline. Imagine any employee (sales, service, collections, accounting, executives) having an instant and comprehensive view of a customer's history when he or she calls. Or for that matter, when they fax or e-mail you. CT is the "portal" to these customer relationships. Databases rule, sure. But what's the sense in a perfect database without I/O?
CT is Converging Telecommunications
Take a look at Lucent and Nortel PBXs nowadays. Check out the IP telephony gateway cards that plug directly in to the backplanes of the switches. Now, finally, the 20-year-old promise of packet switched and circuit switched telecom interoperability is real. Now tie trunks between phone switches are the Internet. Now IP-based phones hook to PBXs and allow far-flung offices to talk on the cheap. On the flip side, Cisco and 3COM have voice modules for their routers. Clearly, data communications and voice communications are converging. And the big players are getting better at interoperability every waking moment. Our friend Richard Shockey came back from a recent IETF standards meeting just bursting with enthusiasm over the apparent "detente" reached between the big switch and router makers. 2000 promises to be a big "interop" year, says Richard. He should know: He chairs one of the working groups on voice- and fax-over-IP.
CT is Contact Center Transactions
Help desk, services, and call center makers are scrambling to re-invent themselves. Even the phrase "call center" is beginning to take a back seat to "customer interaction center" or "contact center." Why? Because the "call" is being re-invented. The word "call" in the classic sense has to do with telephone call routing. Traditional call centers queue up calls in order of priority and parse them out to awaiting agents. But today, new platforms process not only inbound voice calls, but inbound e-mails, faxes, voicemails, and chat sessions. These can be prioritized by customer importance, agent skills, time of day, degree of urgency, etc. Now, even "agents" are sometimes manifest in software. Artificial intelligence is actually woven into some of these new products. Imagine e-mails that are automatically answered, based on keyword and linguistic matching ... It's here today!
CT is Collaborative Technologies
Take NetMeeting. Here, you can do whiteboarding, chat, file sharing, voice broadcasting, IP telephony, and videoconferencing with your colleagues. Users get to collaborate by "phone," share their ideas, view files and pictures together, and trade documents on line. That's collaboration. I know smart CT vendors who actually use these tools in their day-to-day sales presentations. What makes it really exciting? Voice. Good ol' talking on the phone. But it's free -- all over the Internet. Collaborative technologies are the engine behind personal productivity in the workplace. The added bonus is you don't necessarily have to be in the office to be productive with "CT."
CT is Customized Telecom
More and more, CT is getting personal. With WAP (wireless application protocol) and new cell phones. With Bluetooth devices. With Palm-sized personal communicators. With GPS-assisted communications devices. With two-way alphanumeric pagers. Sprinkle on one-number "follow-me" dialing, online sales reports downloaded to your cell phone, directions to your next appointment, and instant order processing -- and the term "road warrior" takes on a whole new meaning. Customization used to mean "systems integration." But the future is customization of your telecom at a very personal level. And the future is "CT."