CTI in Action

Internet Research

ISSN: 1066-2243

Article publication date: 1 October 1998




Rosenbaum, H. (1998), "CTI in Action", Internet Research, Vol. 8 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/intr.1998.17208daf.008



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 1998, MCB UP Limited

CTI in Action

CTI in Action

R. Walters with D. Howard, P. Bohacek, D. Mackenzie and P. HowleyJohn Wiley and SonsBaffins Lane, Chichester, West Sussex, PO 19 1UD,Tel: (+44) (0)1234 779777;E-mail cs-books@wiley.co.uk1997329 pp.ISBN 0-471-96824-2$54.95 (US)

Keywords Companies, Infrastructure, IT, Telecommunications

There is much talk these days about the phenomenon of convergence. Phrases such as the network is the computer and Webcasting capture a vision of a networked information environment where voice, text, still and moving images, and other data are delivered quickly and efficiently to the desktop. While this vision is still shimmering on the horizon, there is a form of convergence that has been quietly taking place in business organisations where telecommunications and computing are being interconnected into integrated information systems. This phenomenon is called computer telephony integration (CTI) and is the subject of a new entry in Wiley's Communications in Business Series. In CTI in Action, Walters, the primary author, and his coauthors, each of whom is responsible for a chapter, have written a clear introduction to, and critical appraisal of, the state of the art of CTI. The authors argue, that CTI is becoming an increasingly important technical specialty in midsized and large corporate settings. Within CTI, they explain, two of the most critical components of organisational information systems ­ their computing and communications infrastructures ­ are interconnected and integrated.

The authors assume that the use of CTI changes the ways in which organisations work at the enterprise level, the workgroup, and on the desktop. One main goal of the book is to explain these changes in detail. Once the basic description of CTI is developed, succeeding chapters illustrate its increasing complexity as more and varied communications and computing functions, such as integrated voice response systems and multimedia messaging, are folded into what the authors call big CTI. Taking an optimistic view of the potential of this integrated technology, they state that it can provide a competitive edge and can also lead to increased job satisfaction.

They argue that a central feature of CTI is the functional integration it provides to support routine business processes. For example, a generic CTI system should allow a user to use her computer terminal to initiate, receive, and route telephone calls, and to see relevant information from an incoming call on her screen (popping). Other functions include the ability to send telephone and data calls simultaneously, to transfer data between phone calls to local computer applications, and to collect and distribute data about the telephone interaction. The functional integration provided by CTI changes and improves the ways in which certain telephone and computer based activities are done, but does not remove people from the activities. This is distinguished from automation which, they argue, involves "removing a person from one end of" the activity (p. 72).

According to Walters, the book is not written for a technical audience and is intended for "anyone who wishes to understand the opportunities, complications, and benefits" of CTI (p. xi). More specifically, it covers the complications, and benefits of CTI and is intended for those who have to make a business case for CTI in their organisations. Toward this end, there is a mix of technical information about CTI, an analysis of the economics of CTI, and descriptions of the implementation of different types of CTI in real business contexts which illustrate both its strengths and weaknesses.

The book begins with an interesting device. The opening chapter offers a hypothetical description of a reasonably large organisation that illustrates the ways in which CTI can assist and hinder the organisation as it goes about its routine business. Rather than engaging in a dry presentation of basic terms and concepts in the introductory chapter, a story is told of a visit to a business in search of a CTI manager. Through this tale, which involves organisational politics, emotional outbursts, and backstage manoeuvring, the ideas and concepts that will be used in the main text, such as screen popping and voice and data call association, are introduced. In addition, CTI is defined by example and function through various character dialogues. This device is also used later in the book to illustrate the technologies of voice automation.

The authors are aware of the possibility that some of the technical material may be slow going for some readers and, in one chapter that contains some complex descriptions of automated systems for voice messaging, even warn that "As usual, you may skip this if you want, but do read the bits before and after the technology section: they are fun" (p. 71). This caveat covers the middle section of the book. Chapters three, four, six, and seven take the reader through the intricacies of the hardware, software, and telecommunications equipment that are used in CTI. The technical components of CTI system architectures are very complex, including PBXs, automated call distribution systems, key systems (less than 50 extensions), local exchanges, fax machines, voice mail, and leased lines on the telephony side and legacy mainframes, LANs, servers, desktop computers, modems, and data lines on the computing side. Integrating these components and shaping them into a system that can provide support for functional business processes is the challenge of CTI. There is an important distinction made among different types of CTI. First party CTI means that the telephone line is connected to the computer, with little modification to either. The computer gains the functionality of the telephone. In discrete first party CTI, the telephone and the computer are distinct and linked. In merged CTI, they are integrated with the handset plugged into the computer. Third party CTI involves a switch, to which telephones are connected, a server or mainframe, to which desktop PCs are connected, and a CTI link between the server and the switch, which allows the computer to act as a telephone operator controlling the calls.

Chapter eight introduces the concept of the systems integrator, the company that provides the integrated CTI system to the organisation. The success of CTI in an organisation depends on the systems integrator chosen to provide, implement, test, and troubleshoot the system. One challenge that arises when these computing and telephony tools are integrated is that there is a need for CTI standards that allow applications to be developed that will work on this platform. The authors provide a clear discussion of the various standards-setting efforts that are under way, both de facto and official.

This is a complex area and they do an admirable job of both arguing for its importance and untangling the issues.

Chapter five stands out from the technical chapters and is the core of the business case for CTI. It is a well written and easy to follow economic analysis of the costs and benefits of CTI when implemented in larger organisations. This chapter should be closely studied by information system and telecommunications managers who may thinking about using CTI technology in their organisations because it contains the raw material that can be used to develop a strong argument for the strategic and economic benefits of this technology. Chapters nine and ten present an extensive case study of British Airways use of CTI and a series of shorter cases illustrating different flavours of CTI in a variety of organisations. These chapters also present the strengths and weaknesses of CTI in organisational settings and are also worthy of close study. The book concludes with two chapters that provide a snapshot of the CTI industry and consider the impacts of the Internet on CTI.

A strength of the book is that the authors provide information throughout about equipment needed for CTI, mentioning suppliers, brand names, and some technical details both in the text and in a series of tables. There are also extended discussions of specific product suites that are competing for CTI market share. For example, chapter 11 offers an analysis of the CTI market and briefly lists the major companies that manufacture and sell component equipment for CTI systems.

There are also a few problems with the book, although they are by no means serious. For one, there is not a clear definition of the term CTI offered early in the book, so some members of the intended audience, non-technical managers, may struggle through the early chapters trying to get a sense of the depth and breadth of the term. This is not intended to be an academic textbook, but there are very few citations in the text, and some might have been helpful to support assertions such as this one, made in a paragraph about automated voice response systems "there is clear evidence that older people do not, in general, like dealing with machines in this way" (p. 93). The book could also have used some editing to avoid sentence fragments: "A slow one that can be used for short messages and a fast one that is normally used for speech." (p. 313). The book is well indexed, but it does not have a bibliography and a listing of other useful resources (such as the author's Web site, for example, at http://www. ctinet.co.uk/ctiwhat1.html) would be helpful to readers who wish to explore the topic further. In addition, a glossary at the back of the book would also be useful since there are many acronyms associated with CTI. If another addition is forthcoming, the author might consider using screen-capture software that provides a higher-resolution image. Many of the screen captures are fuzzy or blurry and important details are lost.

Despite these minor quibbles, this is a very useful addition to Wiley's technology series. It should have a place on the bookshelves of IS/IT and telecommunications managers (or at least be in the corporate library) and should have utility in academic programs, particularly those in Telecommunications and Management of Information Systems departments that are taking technological convergence seriously, and where the next generations of IT and IS managers and systems integrators are being trained in the complexities of CTI.

Howard RosenbaumSchool of Library and Information ScienceIndiana UniversityBloomington Indiana, USAhrosenba@indiana.edu

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