Sunday, December 05, 2010

3rd-party Software = 3rd-party trouble!

Working in computers and telecom for so many years has taught me one thing – 3rd party software usually equates to 3rd party trouble.   Passing the buck, finger pointing, and not taking responsibility abounds when we attempt to bring a 3rd-party solution into the mix.  How effective is another piece of software or hardware is going to work for an organization depends on the features and integration that product will bring to the table.  Let’s look at this from the telecom perspective.

Say you have a phone system and you need to have logging or recording, but the phone equipment manufacturer does not provide this as a standard feature.  You or your vendor are left with finding a 3rd party product that integrates with the current environment.  Then the question – do you need line-side or station-side recording?  Do you need to have CDR information to be recorded with the call?  Do you have the need to monitor the calls in real time through the phone or a computer?  How do you manage what is being recorded and can it be based on the programming of the phone system?  Once you begin asking the questions, the gates of ignorance are opened!  After you do select and install the 3rd-party logging system, then the real fun begins – who do you call when it does not work?  The recording people say it is due to the way the PRI is sending the data, the manufacturer says it is because the software vendor did not write to the latest release and the customer says take it all back until it works.

While you have to admit, a company that only does one thing like call logging from VPI probably does it very well and has a plethora of features for most any application.  They also have experience working with many manufactures so they should know how to deal with the issues that arise in implementation and debugging.  One part of the equation that is always left out is the requirements for more hardware or software licensing on the phone system side to add these solutions to the current environment.   

The flip-side of this is finding a product like the Interactive Intelligence platform that has all the feature sets you need built-in.  While these features will be comparable to the 3rd-party app in 90% of the implementations, you have to assume that the phone system manufacturer will not be able to address every need of every customer, but will hit probably 100% of the features that 80% of the market needs – the old 20/80 rule of any piece of software.  One huge advantage of finding these solutions is that you have a single source and a single person to blame.  If it is broke, only the manufacturer is involved in finding and fixing the problem and no one else can be made responsible for their own software. 

While this scenario is simple, extend it to Call Accounting, Call Center, or Unified Messaging.  As the features become more complex, finding a vendor that can do it all “in skin” is difficult, and usually comes with a price proportional to the features offered by the phone vendor.  Bottom line – how much headache will you put up with to get the features you want and how much do you trust your vendor to integrate everything correctly?  Remember, that neither the phone manufacturer nor the 3rd party vendor will help you to make this all work together. 

Robert Wakefield-Carl, QoS Telesys

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