Ballmer Omlet anyone?

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, had been reported as egged by an Hungrian student, during a lecture at the Budapest University. Now, as much as I would have wanted to be there myself, I have to admit that egging him is somewhat childish, unless that would have been followed by a frying pan to match…

In any case, here’s the video from the event:

Psyched and ecstatic at the same time – Asterisk Bootcamp Israel

OK, I’m fairly psyched out at this point, actually, I would say that I’m ecstatic. The first ever Asterisk Bootcamp training will be taking place on the 25th of May, in Ramat-Gan, and I’m the trainer πŸ™‚

If you are not from Israel, you may regard this as: “What’s so special? Asterisk bootcamps are all over the place!” – but for me this is something really special. In 2002 I began a journey into the world of Asterisk, starting to develop various applications and voice systems based upon this wonderful piece of software. As time progressed, my interest in Asterisk grew, and thus, also my interest in the adaptation of Asterisk to Tier-1 telecom infrastructures.

In 2006 I’ve finalized my first Tier-1 Asterisk application, an International Operator Assisted Dialing platform. If you are from the telecom business, you are most probably familiar with the Nortel TOPS platform. The platform that I’ve developed replaced a Nortel TOPS system, that was installed at Bezeq International in Israel. This was the first ever Asterisk installation as a critical Tier-1 carrier service, within a Tier-1 carrier. Just to give you an idea of the big ho-ha, in Israel, this platform is a regulatory issue – no system, no license – no license, company go bye bye!

A year ago I left Atelis, the company that I help found and manage – a Digium channel and reseller in Israel and the UK. I’m now a freelance consultant/developer, focusing mainly on the integration of Asterisk in various applications and business structures. This training session, to me, is somewhat of a climactic event – as it bring my 5 years of Asterisk experience, into a situation where I can share this experience and know-how with a select group of people – who all share the same goal: they want to learn Asterisk to the fullest.

Training will begin on the 25th of May, and I will try to post each day of the bootcamp, telling you my thoughts, feelings and news from the bootcamp – I’ll even throw in some pictures to match πŸ™‚

Predictive dialers enhance contact center performance – truth or myth?

Since I’ve released my dialer framework demo about 2 months ago, I’ve been swamped with many requests from various contact centers around the world – to utilize my dialer framework for the development of a custom made predictive dialer.

For those of you who are not in the know, a predictive dialer is a tool that is capable of analyzing the performance of each agent in a contact center, accurately predicting when his current call will be completed, and thus, start calling outbound to ensure that the agent is utilized as much as possible.

Most contact center managers believe that if an agent is utilized 100% of the day (or at least a close enough number), they will maximize their profits and work will be done faster. This is not always the case, and there are some cases where predictive dialers will be nothing more than a “White Elephant”, sitting in your call center, doing nothing.

Considering the following scenario: We have a contact center selling computer insurance plans by phone. Each agent is trained to make a sale, that is: “Don’t get off the bloody phone without a credit card!”. One of the issues with such a contact center is that there is no-way of predicting how long a sale will take. Lets imagine that one call a sale happens in 15 minutes, while in the next, we start with the kid in the house, move to the older brother, move to the mother, move to the father, ending up making a sale after 35 minutes. In other words, we have no way of profiling an agent, as there is no proper profile to the customers.

So you can argue that by utilizing statistical models and proper targeting of potential customers, we can go about and perform more accurate predictions. However, these predictions will all go up in flames, the minute a deviation from the norm of the statistic happens. We then immediately create a form of ripple effect, that is then carried across the entire contact center.

In the book “The Goal“, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, the author tells us a story about a group of boys walking in the woods. The group of boys constantly are unable to walk the path at the designated speed, due to various timing and synchronization issues. In theory, a predictive dialer is used to better synchronize the contact center intake (numbers to be dialed), with the contact center’s ability to perform (the ability to make a sale). However, this model fails when the sale constraint is unknown, thus, making the entire model fail.

In most cases, contact centers are better off using “Preview Dialers” and not “Predictive Dialers”, unless, the contact center is highly targeted with its campaigns and sale strategy. A “sell or die” contact center strategy immediately negates the possibility of accurately measuring the contact center performance and bottle necks, thus, having an automatic pace creator in such a scenario will become redundant and will most probably just cost funds.

Asterisk powers Israel’s 60th independance day information service

Ok, the service is up and running, so now I can show it off. Israel’s 60th independance day parties information service is running of an Asterisk servers – how do I know that, you ask? simple, it’s my Asterisk server!

Well, actually, the service is being run by BeLowCall, an IVR and telecom services company, while the platform was developed by me. Essentially, the system is an Asterisk based application engine, that has a very minimalistic dialplan code and communicates with an SQL backoffice then instructs the Asterisk server what to do – in turn, turning the Asterisk server into a high scaleable state transition machine – capable of developing IVR system at any depth or as wide as you want.

If you want to feel the system, you are welcome to call +972-73-2126060. The entire application took about 4 hours to provision, including the database registration system and the recording – not bad, right?

The unbearable manner of the “me too” syndrome

There is nothing more annoying than the “me too” syndrome – the ever annoying human behavior of seeing something good and copying it – while doing a lousy job at it.

So, what am I ranting about this time? I’m ranting about the lousy job companies like Sangoma, Yeaster, Varion, PhonicEQ and other Digium would-be ‘clone’ companies are doing. Being the founder of the Israeli Asterisk community in Israel, I get man people come to me asking for Asterisk support and assistance. I render this support as much as I can (at least when I’m awake and next to my computer), to the best of my abilities, but I am always amazed at the crap people are willing to take – in the pursue of a lower price.

Let us take the Sangoma cards for example. If you were to ask me about 3-4 years ago, which card is superior, Digium or Sangoma, I have toΒ  admit that I would most probably say that Sangoma was slightly superior back then. However, since the introduction of the TE?10P cards and TE?20P cards, Digium cards are superior in my book. Now, even in the old days, installing a card like Sangoma was a hassle. Patches and drivers and modules and services and a shit load of configurations that didn’t always work straight out of the box. Now, about 2 years ago, I completely abandoned Sangoma cards, due to a simple reason, they were no longer worth the hassle.

Now, a friend of mine got stuck tonight with a Sangoma board that didn’t work right, no matter what he did, the configuration didn’t work right. Now, the guy has over 2 years experience with Asterisk, hell, the guy wrote a rock-solid callback system, that is serving over 10,000 customers daily. Surely, he should be able to install a simple Sangoma card, shouldn’t he? well, imagine my surprise when he called me on the IM, saying: “I now understand why Sangoma suck! They have no idea how to program or work with Linux, their installation process is a mess!”.

So, Sangoma (and its similar) are faced with a problem: We manufacture cards, they’re actually quite good, but damn it, they’re not fully Zaptel compliant, so we need various patches to make them work – which means, that a normal, non-guru person will surely run into problems installing them. So, what do they do? simple, they turn to the users for the solutions, supporting various initiatives (mainly: TrixBox), and transfer the entire process of provisioning the card into the distro, making it seem automatic. Great, the user can install in 2 minutes and be up and running, but at the background, they hide much of the work that needs to be done, making it a fairly unmanageable system.

Why do I say that? simple, I had about a dozen TrixBox based customers with Sangoma Quad PRI boards, which I migrated to Digium TE410 cards, simply because the integration was much much much better.

Now, I have no problem with the “me too” syndrome when “me too” actually means: “me too, but I’m better”, this creates a proper sense of competition, which is always good for the market and the consumer. But when “me too” means: “me too, but not as good”, the market suffers and the consumer suffers and even worse.

Lets take an example of a good “me too”. A good “me too” would be the OpenVOX mini-pci initiative. None of the manufacturers are currently making mini-pci based Asterisk boards, while OpenVOX had initiated an interesting niche here. Having done some embedded development lately, mostly on WRAP and ALIX, the possibility of a 4 port FXO mini-pci, in my book, is perfect. As Digium currently doesn’t make anything like this, then OpenVOX is it. If Digium decides to push out a mini-pci line, I would test it, if it is as good as OpenVOX and integrates easily, then I’ll shift.

Most people in Israel know me as a pure Digium guy, which means that I always use Digium products. But when such products are none existent, I will use a product that covers my requirements, even if Digium doesn’t make it. However, if and when Digium comes out with a similar product, I’ll revert to that product immediately – mainly for the sake of compatibility, simplicity and most importantly, the supporting of the project and the company behind it.