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PBX - Past, Present and Future
The telephone systems of today are becoming more and more technologically advanced, gaining more features every year. Unified messaging, web-based call control and voice-recognizing personal assistants top the list. Every day, hundreds of calls coming into companies are automatically routed to the appropriate recipients, while at the same time those recipients send and receive voice mail messages, faxes and e-mail over the Internet using their PCs. The merging of voice, data and messaging (often called "convergence") maximizes efficiency at the same time minimizing cost, enabling companies to be more competitive than ever before.
Historically, a company's incoming calls were connected manually by a live operator using cords and switchboards. In the 1960s the private automatic branch exchange (PABX) was introduced, allowing workers to call fellow employees within the building or connect to an outside line without the help of the operator. Aside from being more convenient, the PABX reduced costs incurred by eliminating the need for the large amount of lines previously required as well as changing the way internal calls were placed to free up those lines for outgoing calls.
Have all these advances meant the elimination of the switchboard operator? No, instead the job has become more challenging, requiring quick and courteous handling of a multitude of incoming calls, making them a virtual phone-answering superhero. Today, auto-attendant and automatic call distribution (ACD) technology are also able to effectively handle those tasks, though many companies, Main Resource included, find that customers prefer speaking having their calls answered by an operator.
PBX systems (as PABX later became known), have not been without their own obstacles. Despite the time and money-saving benefits of PBX, it was not as readily accepted in the American business world as might have been expected. Many companies were not willing to part with their own paid-for and complicated systems to spend thousands on new and difficult to use PBX systems that could not be integrated with the existing system.
Eventually, in the 1990s, PBX manufacturers got in touch with what the public wanted. They began to add flexibility, allowing systems to be expanded by simply adding cards and ports rather than starting over with a new system. Auto-attendant features became easier to use and more widespread. PBX systems began to be integrated with computer technology, making call handling and administration easier. Even so this did not put the telephone operator out of business, but instead made the job easier and more sophisticated, while helping the companies become more efficient and competitive.
The PBX was becoming a highly efficient tool able to tackle the changing needs of businesses, whether a small office of 10 employees, or a large call center with 500 employees.
The digital revolution that has affected countless areas of our lives could not help but find its way into telephony. As a result, the digital PBX was produced, enabling even more functions with fewer necessary resources. Simultaneous voice and data transfer, automatic call forwarding and dial-by-voice became common, while the systems themselves became more reliable all the time.
Today's global marketplace has created needs beyond the traditional PBX. Workers on the go find they need to manage their communications all the time. This includes access to e-mail, fax and voice mail message retrieval on an ongoing basis. Business people demand reliable, expandable and cost-efficient systems. Internet PBX systems incorporate powerful hardware and software that effectively and inexpensively integrate the needs of the modern worker, enabling even the smallest of companies the opportunity to compete with larger companies with much larger budgets.
Internet-based PBX systems easily and effectively manage call center's inbound and outbound calls. E-mail, voice mail and fax documents are streamlined into one common inbox where they can be easily distributed. Operators are not tied up answering every call, only those requiring immediate, personal attention. Most calls can be automatically routed to the desired extension or the next available representative.
Calls that cannot be taken, or those chosen not to be taken using Web-based call screening are either routed to voice mail or forwarded to another specified number. This ensures that no opportunity for customer contact is lost when an employee it not at their desk.
Customer e-mail can be screened by call center staff and forwarded to the appropriate e-mail inbox where it can be read aloud to the recipient using optional voice recognition software. This feature can even be utilized from remote locations using the telephone. Faxes can be sent as e-mail attachments to customers who do not have fax machines, and voice mail can be read on the Internet simply. This integrated messaging system is the future of computer telephony and is affecting the way call centers and companies are managing their customers and their businesses.
The turnkey nature of today's Internet-based PBX systems offers a substantial advantage over its predecessors. Hardware and software systems are integrated to work smoothly and reliably, not requiring a dedicated systems engineer or IT professional to maintain or administrate. Training required to familiarize users with system features is minimal.
Key to success in today's market is speed. The faster a caller can get through to the right person, receive an e-mail reply or leave a voice mail message, the happier the customer will be and the more successful the company will be in retaining that customer. Today's sophisticated Internet PBX systems diminish the number of dropped, misrouted and missed calls.
Purchasing extra bandwidth on a flat-rate usage basis is an excellent way to accommodate varying voice, data and messaging needs simply. Without adding another phone or data line, extra bandwidth can accommodate a 35-way conference call one day, send a bulk 50,000 e-mail promotion the next, arrange a 1,800-way conference call the day after that and transfer 500 terabytes (one terabyte is equal to 1,000 gigabytes) of data to a client on the fourth day. You would only pay for the extra usage.
In the future all that will be needed to deliver enhanced services includes a few simple edge devices such as IP routers ands switches connected to a centrally hosted bank of computers with integrated IP gateway and gatekeepers. Those services include unified messaging, conference calling, automated call distribution, personal assistant and broadband Internet access which will be essential in managing communications infrastructure.
The journey from switchboard operator to today's sophisticated telecommunications has been extraordinary. Today's e-business environment is changing at lightning speed. The question becomes, where is the PBX headed? Call center activities will be more efficient and responsive is they recognize the computer-telephony is heading toward the convergence of multiple technologies.
The increased use of IP telephony to make calls over the Internet will bring inherent cost and capacity benefits. With on-demand bandwidth availability, companies will be able to respond to their changing needs (to accommodate, for instance, seasonal spikes or lulls in call volume) on an as-needed, when-needed basis. On-demand communication servers that provide flexibility and cost-efficiency are the next step in computer telephony.
There appears to be no slow down in the development of today's technology. The evolution of the PBX is alive and well!
Count on Main Resource to be your resource for the latest technology updates as well as quality new and refurbished telecom equipment!
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