working gear

Feb 01, 2001 10:30 PM  By

CRM software makes medium irrelevant in contact centers; Web-enables legacy apps Gathering of the Clans What technology weaves disparate components – phones and faxes, e-mails, personal digital assistants, kiosks, pagers, and interactive TV – all together in a CRM pattern? GT-X, the flagship product of global software developer Graham Technology, headquartered in Glasgow, Scotland, is just such a solution for integrating and Web-enabling contact centers. Graham Technologies specializes in systems that feature development tools aimed specifically at adapting call centers to twenty-first-century “convergent” technologies. GT-X supports an N-tier client/server, object-oriented, component-based suite of applications for customer relationship management, regardless of the customer’s medium of communication.

GT-X is in use in contact centers for such leading companies as Home Shopping Network, Bank One, OfficeMax, and Chadwick’s of Boston in the United States; GUS Home Shopping, Cellnet, One2One, Direct Wines, British Telecom, and Scottish Power in the UK; Libertel in the Netherlands; Telecom Eireann in Ireland; and Telkomsel in Indonesia. There are also Graham Technology affiliates in each country in which GT-X is installed.

One-color platform GT-X defines business processes in a flexible way and then stores them in a relational database. The generic business process server can hold and execute any business process definition.

The software addresses complex data and communication integration issues using service object/service request broker architecture, and delivers business processes using a lightweight and low bandwidth protocol to any number of thin clients.

What this means is the virtual elimination of multiple integration platforms for bringing legacy applications, operational databases, and Web services to the call center and the end user. That – plus the unified business process modeling – is the big payoff with GT-X. Business rules that drive all aspects of the business are defined once and maintained in one place, and multiple databases can be brought together in a unified business workflow. Accordingly, application functions can be reused across all clients, including a Web browser, and the interface, whether in the call center or on the customer side, is completely multilingual.

There are also tools for doing customer database management and profiling, key indexing of information for other integrated systems, storage of customer contact histories, and direct support for computer telephony integration (CTI).

On the server side, GT-X offers intelligent load balancing and custom load balancing solutions, plus multi-level security access and production of personalized Web pages across multiple Web servers.

Package deal GT-X is not a plug-and-play system. Indeed, you don’t just buy a “package” with Graham Technology – you essentially buy into a development partnership. Graham Technology developers and analysts come on site to work closely with your team to teach them the use of the tools and the system, and to set up the initial implementation. The process takes weeks and months, but not years. Thereafter, you may continue the partnership or handle further development in-house, as you wish.

There is a strong component of “knowledge transfer” in this collaboration. Graham doesn’t want to hide tools and skills from its users – it wants to enable them to take over the work for themselves.

The ideal user is a company that already has one or more legacy applications and databases. While Graham can start from scratch, it excels at helping companies integrate legacy components, and in synchronizing the definition of multiple business rules and processes.

As for cost, a ten-user system runs about $32,000, and a 1,000-user system goes for $840,000, which equals a range of $840-$3,200 per user. Graham charges a 15% annual maintenance fee.

Tools and components The GT-X system is not an application per se, but a set of tools designed specifically to support the rapid development of component-based call center applications. Components are somewhat akin to modules in procedurally designed systems, with objects similarly analogous to sub-routines. But components share the same attributes as objects for functional “encapsulation,” “inheritance,” and integration through language-independent application programming interfaces (APIs) using either DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model from Microsoft), CORBA (Common Object Request Broker from the Object Management Group), or Java-enabled methods.

Finally, a component-based system supports an extensible, multi-tiered architecture that allows for true separation of data, business logic, and user interfaces.

Warp and weft Written in C++ and Java for any ODBC-compliant database (typically Oracle, Informix, or NT), GT-X provides product “road maps” with common functionality for agent management, customer management, and campaign management.

A repository of business processes resides on a business process server in the GT-X application layer, which also manages a service request broker and a multitude of service objects to handle such activities as address verification, credit checking, image management, and integration with interactive voice response units, ACDs, and legacy applications. A “designer’s notebook” provides basic development tools for the business process server, including taskflow and workflow management, a data dictionary, forms, HTML templates, and procedures.

The system’s application layer integrates on the front end to a presentation layer that is completely platform independent, and ranges from telephones and cell phones to Web browsers, e-mail, digital TV, kiosks, PDAs, and even faxes and automatic tellers.

The “N-tier” client/server approach relies on thin clients for any interactive platform and a low-bandwidth interactive services protocol for remote access. For the front and back ends there is support for message-oriented middleware (TIBCO, MQSeries, Tuxedo, Top-End, M3, and many mainframe systems), and order entry APIs to develop additional services.

GT-X also supports Java Beans & ActiveX Active Server Pages, with a business transaction API that exposes unified services to multiple environments.

Model the process The heart of GT-X is business processing modeling. A business process consists of (1) a defined workflow that manages the overall process (greet customer, confirm purpose of call, enter/confirm source code, enter/confirm name and address, etc.) and assigns priorities to multiple branched functions or procedures; (2) a taskflow that actually manages the details of the workflow; (3) a set of forms that define the interfaces for the call center, the Web browser, the digital TV set, or other user interface; and (4) a logic component that contains all the business rules for managing the workflow and the data, which includes rules for database access, updating, and data manipulation.

The entire GT-X suite is designed to support what Graham Technology is at pains to define as “interaction.” Personalization is not enough: Customers need to interact with you for order entry, customer service, product inquiries, and other functions for the system to be doing its job. And in Graham’s view, the interaction should be transparently available on a cross-platform basis, with the same business rules and same data, regardless of the platform used. You can’t achieve this goal without comprehensive enterprise integration and unified business process management, which is what GT-X is all about.

Allegiant Technology Group handles the implementation and support for GT-X users in the U.S. Allegiant started in 1996 as a subsidiary of Graham, but is now independent. Its staff of 50+ (with offices in Tampa and Sacramento, as well) is divided into three divisions: Solution Definition, Solution Delivery, and Technical Services. Solution Definition focuses on methods, tools, and techniques for system development, and when their job is done the development is handled by the Delivery Group.

Technical Services is home to system architects, database administrators, and CTI experts. In addition to Allegiant’s resources, GT-X users may of course also take advantage of Graham Technology resources worldwide, including extensive training at the Glasgow facility.

Web-enabled legacy apps As an object-oriented, component-based solution, GT-X has value that extends beyond the contact center. Its N-tier architecture, workflow modules, business rules repository, and open interface standards make it a suitable platform for business process integration on the Internet that supports interactive data exchange with trading partners, customers, and suppliers. If you are looking for a way to Web-enable a cluster of legacy applications for inventory or customer management while at the same time supporting convergent media in the contact center, GT-X is a strong candidate for getting the job done quickly and cost-effectively.