Virtual Working: The Technological Implications


In his penultimate editorial on business continuity and risk management, Graham Chick considers the technology needed to make virtual working a success.

In my last article, I addressed the possibility of call centre operators establishing a homeworking policy that would enable agents to work remotely from home in times of strife. Such a prospect will become particularly relevant should we be unfortunate enough to suffer the much heralded ‘flu pandemic. But why not consider implementing a homeworking policy on an all day, every day basis? After all, such a move could also facilitate the expansion of your business.

In his editorial entitled “Homeworking: what you need to know before you start”, featured in Call Centre Helper’s August 2006 edition, Gene Reynolds provided an excellent high-level overview of the many aspects that have to be considered before embarking on a homeworking strategy.

In this article I want to expand on that by concentrating on the more technical issues: specifically on how call centre operators can grow their businesses to commercial advantage by deploying leading edge automatic call distribution (ACD) and enabling technologies to facilitate more flexible ways of working.

What call centres are looking for today

With a few exceptions, the long-established ACD/PBX manufacturers have resisted change and maintained their focus on adding additional functionality to their already expensive, large-scale legacy solutions.

Despite this, out of approximately 5,700 call centres in the UK, more than 90% now have fewer than 250 agents – with 80% having fewer than 100 agents and some 60% having fewer than 20 agents. It is therefore clear that call centre operators are not focusing their limited budgets on expanding capacity on their expensive legacy systems. Rather, they are looking for more powerful, cost-effective solutions that are suitable for smaller call centre operations: ones that are also capable of facilitating more flexible ways of working on an all day, every day basis.

So how are they going to find such technologies? As touched on in last month’s article, there are now a growing number of specialist technology solutions that focus solely on delivering comprehensive ACD functionality, including full skills-based routing and comprehensive call statistics, at a fraction of the cost of the legacy systems.

This can be achieved by overflowing inbound calls from your existing call centre in to a new, network-based and dedicated ACD solution that will redirect those inbound calls to any number of remote agents. Alternatively, if you are contemplating setting up a new call centre without incurring the high overheads of a traditional call centre, such systems enable all of your call centre agents to work remotely.

Many of these solutions can be procured on a fully managed service basis by paying an all-embracing monthly charge to include lease purchase costs and all maintenance and support costs rather than having to incur a high initial capital purchase cost. After an initial three-year period, operators will own the equipment and can elect to either relocate it to another carrier’s network, or can continue with a lesser monthly charge simply to cover the annual support and maintenance costs.

With these options call charges are billed at standard rates. Naturally, the systems will also provide comprehensive statistical reporting via downloads in to any number of reporting packages.

Other key technologies

Another technology which is a ‘must have’ in the modern call centre environment is the provision of trunk side secure voice recording of all inbound calls to, and outbound calls made by, your agents. This includes all in and outbound calls made to or by your homeworking agents.

As with traditional ACD/PBX technology, the cost of secure voice recording technology has been perceived to be expensive. But today this is no longer the case. And with many call centre outsourcing customers requiring calls received and/or made on their behalf to be recorded, failure to incorporate the same in to your virtual call centre could put you at a severe disadvantage when looking to win future business.

That’s all well and good, you might say. But just how do you facilitate the expansion of your existing call centre to incorporate any number of disparately located home workers with the delivery of both inbound and outbound calls, as well as connectivity to centralised office systems and customer databases? The answer is, in fact, simple. By using ever faster broadband connections.

What you didn’t know about broadband

The advent of broadband in its increasing number of formats, here in the UK at least, is probably the fastest developing enabler of remote working technologies. Extensive competition between providers is driving capacity up and prices down.

The most common form of broadband currently available here in the UK is asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), which transforms a normal, directly connected telephone line in to a high speed broadband (data) connection. It is ‘asymmetric’ because it provides much faster download speeds (from the Internet to the user) than upload speeds (the user sending information via the Internet to another user).

Interestingly, as an aside, this is probably the most misunderstood aspect of broadband. Providers talk about 2Mb to 8Mb capacity and increasingly greater download speeds. What they forget to mention is the restricted upload speed of, until recently, only 256Kb.

Furthermore, broadband is commonly ‘contended’ (shared) with a number of other users. For instance, BT’s standard home user package is contended at 50:1, meaning that it is lightning fast if used by a single user at any one time, but is painfully slow if all 50 subscribers are using the connection at the same time.

It is of course possible to pay more than the standard published charges for lower contention rates – as low as 5:1, in fact. This will obviously provide much quicker download speeds. However, the upload speed will still be stuck around the 256Kb mark.

Alternatives to consider – both now and in the future

For those users who wish to benefit from the same upload speed as download speed, then symmetric digital subscriber lines (SDSL) can be procured. However, this comes at significantly extra cost.

That said, greater speeds are now becoming available with ADSL Max. This offers a downstream speed of up to 8Mb and upstream speeds of 832Kb for business connections, and 448Kb for home packages. ADSL2+ is currently in development, too, offering speeds of up to 24Mb.

With all of these new technologies, nothing is guaranteed, of course. All of these speeds are often distance-related (the further your home is from the connecting exchange, the slower the speed) and can also be affected by the quality of the connection, which may have been broken and repaired several times over the years. Personally, I think this is something to seriously consider when thinking about the deployment of voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), but more of that next month.

A final consideration

What I do want to go through before I finish this month’s piece is the need to consider the use of a PC or laptop by your now fully enabled homeworkers.

The need for ever greater security to prevent viruses, worms and other cyber attacks affecting your centralised office systems means that you have to be even more vigilant and security conscious where the use of homeworkers is concerned.

Consequently, it is strongly recommended that dedicated PCs or laptops are provided by the company for work use, which can only access centralised office systems via the most stringent of firewalls. The use of home PCs should not be permitted unless the same levels of firewall security have been applied to the home PC.

Graham Chick is managing director of Gematech
Tel: +44 800 328 8354

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 23rd Feb 2007 - Last modified: 18th Feb 2020
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