Want to implement a Hosted VoIP Solution but need to integrate existing applications/adjuncts currently connected to analog station ports from a legacy PBX? Well you can with an ATA device as going with hosted VoIP does not necessarily require you to toss out prior investments in self-service IVRs, VRUs, workforce
management, image/fax and even voice-mail solutions. As companies weigh the cost of owning a tradition PBX solution vrs migrating to a browser based VoIP solution, there is an opportunity to breathe new life into older technology that helped to differentiate good customer service. Imagine adding new voice mail-to-email options to a 10 year old IVR application, or including remote agents by way of a mobile device or soft-phone.
The reality is, hosted VoIP is here to stay. Its ability to level the playing field for small- to mid-sized companies with powerful enterprise capabilities is going to change the competitive landscape. Larger companies no longer hold the advantage on telephony capabilities as smaller competitors are able to offer the same self-service and follow-the-sun solutions and without the racks of servers and cubicles of technicians.
Although today hosted VoIP cannot match feature-for-feature, the scope and scale of an on premise enterprise solution (yet), there are several solutions and workarounds that will close the features gap as hosted VoIP continues to evolve. When these features do arrive, notification will be via an email and new menu selections in your management portal vs. a scheduled weekend cut with the associated on-going maintenance costs.
ATA’s in Hosted VoIP Migrations
After being in the Lucent/Avaya and Cisco Telecom space for over 17 years, I can’t tell you how powerful the story of Add/Move/Change support has become with hosted VoIP vs. legacy PBX administration. Which brings me to my discussion on the power of introducing the port adapter device (or ATA) as the MacGyver to a successful Hosted VoIP Solution.
Many of my customers need to keep in place analog connectivity when migrating to a hosted VoIP solution to accommodate cordless phones, fax machines, scanning/imaging systems, lobby phones, or paging systems… all items that an ATA device can address and do a great job to carry over into a hosted VoIP.
This post is not about those items but rather how to leverage the ATA for a much larger feature gap which is connectivity to enterprise systems where call volumes are extensive and reintegration is essential. I had one particular customer who had to reconnect their existing 8 port IVR/VRU servers; a custom-built solution which provides subscriber benefit and enrollment status information for over 8,000+ end users and with over 70,000 per month minutes of self-service (about 9 minutes per user, per month). My end customer calculated they would have to hire a minimum of 10 new call center agents if their IVR solution was removed or was down for more than a month. So the only option was to figure out how to reconnect their IVR Solution with the hosted VoIP solution. To do so, I opted to go with 4 dual port Cisco SPA112 Phone Adapters.
Working with legacy IVR/VRU systems can be tricky but with a few key steps, you will be successful and not run out of time during your on-site scope. Here are the steps I’ll be covering: prepping the hosted VoIP solution, configuring the ATA devices, testing and adjusting the existing IVR scripts, turning over to call center management for final testing and feedback.
Prepping the Hosted VoIP Solution
My first task involves setting up my extensions, building an auto attendant, and placing all 8 (showing only 7 in my screen captures) extensions into a Hunt Group on the Hosted VoIP system. Once each ext is labeled, assigned a 3/4/5/6 digit extension and permanently logged-in as an available agent (I won’t need to manually log-in and out for lunch breaks or even after hours as I can control access to the resources through business and after-hours with the auto-attendant)… it’s go time!
Note: It’s nice to work with automated ports as they don’t take smoke breaks or need lunch but keep in mind, if this is a production system you are setting these resources up on, be mindful of conducting after-hours as you may need to add/remove settings from a production area. The usual way apply when dealing with a phone system as everyone expects and forgets about the internet going down, while everyone remembers when the phones go out.
Configuring the ATA Devices
My next step is to configure my Cisco SPA112 2-Port Phone Adapters, which allows up to two lines to be handled with one device. For larger deployments, I would recommend going with one of Cisco’s VG Analog Gateways which offer high-density options for up to 160 analog ports (I’m looking forward to a future blog post which focuses on some of the more advanced features you can introduce with Cisco’s IOS Software). But for the majority of smaller to medium sized sites, 8 – 24 ports is nicely served with the Cisco SPA devices currently available. Configuring the SPAs is quick and easy once you obtain the IP address, which can be had with any analog phone (even that old ESPN Football phone from the 80′s will do) as you can dial into the device and receive a clear text to speech read back of the IP address for plugging into your browser. Once in, you can access the configuration screens which I’ve gone ahead and attached below. Since you’ve already built your extensions in the prior step, you simply need to assign each line with its specific name on the ATA. Down the road, you may need to configure some additional screens on each of the devices so I would suggest a good spreadsheet to keep everything neat and orderly as you build out your solution. Note: each phone line can be configured independently and it’s a good idea to have a labeler ready to notate each device and label each line out (as associated with the exts assigned).
Testing and Adjusting the Existing IVR Scripts
Now for the fun part and to see if you have a basic grasp of how call flows, exts and auto-attendants work. Assuming you have un-plugged your legacy adjunct analog line ports whether they be from an IVR, VRU, Voice mail, Fax Server, or anything with an analog adapter, you are now ready to swing over these system port(s) to your new ATA ports. Note: keep a look out for dual line ports on your cards, if you are plugging directly from an ATA, you are only going to get a single line in.. two line splitters and multi-line cables is a sure bet and you may even be able to reuse them if they were jacked into wall boxes. Otherwise, you will need to recreate the 2 line into the server(s) analog card(s) (Brooktrout, Dialogic, etc.), but I would suggest ordering or having them locally built by a cable maker. Note: see image attached below of the ones I ordered as this makes a much cleaner solution and just looks professional. Once you are all hooked up, begin test calling into your auto-attendants and/or hunt groups (which I will have a future blog post on) and even direct dial each IVR Ext just to ensure every line is working as depending on how you setup your hunt groups, you may or may not be able to hit every IVR port depending on how you assigned round-robin, most idle agent, etc. Pull out that ESPN Analog Football phone again and manually test ring off the back of every ATA line port to be even more anal!
Turning Over to Call Center Management for Final Testing and Feedback
After you hit your adjunct ports, you are just about there as now you need to do some menu select prompt testing to ensure things are working and you have compatibly with the new ATA’s. You may need to edit the exiting adjunct scripts to make them compatible with your ATA devices as every system will be different and depending on what your legacy phone system was: Avaya, Nortel, Aspect, NEC, etc., you can sure bet they all have specific timeouts and PBX commands for the simplest of commands, such as off-hook and transfer, etc.
But this is the fun part and this is where you complete the journey specific to your endeavor or call Soteria, LLC. as we are ready to help. www.soteria365.com
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