Open Source Solutions for Contact Centers
Open Source Solutions for Contact Centers
By Donna Fluss
Enterprises of all sizes have been adopting open source software at an ever-increasing rate. The biggest enterprise open source success stories have been LINUX for servers, Apache to provide Web Services, and mySQL as a database. While it has taken time, a growing number of contact centers are starting to show interest in open source applications. While there are challenges inherent in its use, it must be remembered that open source software is free and contact centers are always looking for new ways to reduce their technology expenses.
There are three reasons why open source software has only started to make inroads in the contact center. First, because contact centers usually are mission-critical functions, they require applications that are bulletproof. The second reason is that open source software often does not always have the full set of features and pre-built integrations that are taken for granted in the more mature proprietary contact center solutions. Finally, open source software comes with little or no ongoing support and therefore requires a company to have a relatively sophisticated in-house IT staff to maintain it.
Contact Center Early Adopters
Most of the adoption of open source contact center software to date has been in smaller environments where the IT staff is willing and able to install and maintain the product. This is because open source software is often a do-it-yourself project, requiring that the company have the ability and resources to do their own implementation, integration, troubleshooting, ongoing maintenance and support. Additionally, most of the currently available open source products are more suitable for small contact centers, which can get along without every single feature available in the market, and do not require a great deal of integration with other enterprise systems. Installing open source software in a large, multi-site contact center environment, while doable and potentially a good way to save money on software and installation expenses, requires dedication of a good deal of internal IT and telephony resources on an ongoing basis.
Supporting Open Source Applications
Maintenance and support for open source applications has traditionally been either left to volunteers via message boards (the community) or third-parties who provide support for open source products that they often helped create, for a fee. Examples of this kind of relationship are the support available from Digium for the telephony infrastructure product Asterisk, OrekX for the recording package Oreka, and SugarCRM for their open source customer relationship management software. To gauge the interest and attention being paid to an application, look it up on www.www.sourceforge.net and checkout the number of downloads and active members listed.
The nature of the open source model is that many enhancements and features are contributed by users. While provided at no cost, there is limited quality assurance and testing of new features. Part of the open source concept is that the user community is the testing ground.
Data Security Concerns
Data security is an important issue for all types of software, including open source. But open source software does not inherently present any greater security risks than most other applications. With open source software, however, the user is responsible for identifying and fixing security issues. Unless the customer is paying for third-party support, there is no vendor to help diagnose and address security concerns, but information and suggestions are often available from the user community.
Making a Selection
As with any technology acquisition, it is important to thoroughly review all options before making a selection. DMG suggests that prospects begin by compiling a list of functionality that is needed to support their department. Next, they should review the open source options to determine which ones have the desired functionality. If its unclear exactly what is included in a particular offering (because open source vendors do not generally demo their products), prospects can download the source code and test out the software before making a decision. Its also worthwhile to read about what the open source community associated with each particular package has to say. (The more popular open source products have websites where there are active community discussions about current issues and any steps being taken to address them.)
Contact Center Open Source Providers
The best known open source contact center infrastructure solution is Asterisk. Asterisk is a full-featured soft switch that includes functionality for private branch exchange (PBX), automatic call distribution (ACD), computer telephony integration (CTI), remote agent support, interactive voice response (IVR), predictive dialing, voice mail, recording, etc. Other open source switches, some of which are based on Asterisk, are: CallWeaver, Elastix, FreeSWITCH, GNU Bayonne, OpenPBX, sipXecs and YATE. In addition to telephony solutions, other open source solutions for contact centers are: Concursive, openCRX, SugarCRM and vtiger, which are customer relationship management (CRM) servicing applications, and Oreka for recording. There are also enterprise resource planning/CRM solutions such as ADemriere, Compiere. opentaps and xTuple.
www.www.sourceforge.net is a good place to identify open source products and to find links to their community websites. The VoIP Wiki (voip-info.org) is another useful source of information about open source software for VoIP environments.
Outlook for Contact Center Open Source Applications
Open source products have great potential for the contact center. Their very existence is likely to promote innovation and eventually drive down the pricing for contact center solutions. Open source solutions should become much more prevalent in the future, but getting there will require a lot of thought and preparation. Today, contact centers are tentatively venturing into the open source community. As these products become more mature and third-party support becomes better and more available, contact centers will have even more incentive to acquire open source solutions.