Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is not to blame for the poor-quality and reliability issues prevalent in some call centre systems, stresses cloud-based software service provider 1Stream cofounder Bruce von Maltitz.
“As a technology, VoIP is completely capable of doing the job, provided you don’t cut corners,” he says. He points out that cutting corners is exactly what companies tend to do, making VoIP the scapegoat for subsequent quality and reliability issues.
There has, therefore, been a negative response towards VoIP in some parts of the South African telecommunications market, with the assumption that the technology still needs to mature.
Von Maltitz is adamant that VoIP is more than likely not the problem when quality issues arise.
“Any number of other technology-related issues could be the reason for your call centre system experiencing problems,” he says, urging companies to look into the quality of their system, the credentials of their service provider and the use of asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) as a connectivity option.
“ADSL in South Africa is not voice ready,” he explains. “It doesn’t provide a dedicated method of connection for guaranteeing the voice path.”
ADSL is cheaper than other connections, which is why it is used by many South African companies.
Von Maltitz is, however, opposed to this. “If you’re going to put a voice down a line you need to provide some level of quality of service,” he says, and until there is sufficient Internet infra- structure and fibre in the ground, he believes there will always be a bottleneck when using an ADSL connection in South Africa.
Further, he states that South Africa is ahead of the curve when it comes to using VoIP, citing JSE-listed telecommunications group Telkom’s former monopoly over the industry as the likely cause.
He states that Telkom used to be the only provider, and that this resulted in high costs.
As a result, people tried other mechanisms, like VoIP, to manage costs, whereas healthy competition overseas kept citizens in other countries complacent and unwilling to move away from their old environments, adds Von Maltitz.
South African companies, however, are now happily embracing cloud services and the technology that comes with them as an alternative to traditional forms of telecommunication.
Von Maltitz maintains that, as long as the methodology used to implement and maintain VoIP technology is credible and of the best quality, this will be a company’s “best bet”.
“Spend a reasonable amount on proper bandwidth and other technology, and it can be trusted to do its job. Bargain basement shopping for VoIP is neither necessary nor worth it,” he says.
Another obstacle facing cloud-based operators, such as 1Stream, is that telecommunications software is readily available online, enabling anyone to set up a private branch exchange-type environment without the support of a service provider.
A company can hire someone internally to build, manage and support a networking system, which may or may not be successful, depending on whether this person has a suffi- cient understanding of the technology and a certain skills level to deal with any future complications.
Von Maltitz, however, argues that this option is too risky.
He says that, while freeware do-it-yourself systems may be cheaper at first, the cost of owning these platforms, maintenance and service upgrade costs, as well as any downtime that may occur as a result of the product’s lack of reliability, may be significant in the long run.
“If you’re going to choose that route, you have to have very good control mechanisms in place,” says Von Maltitz. “The technology is in a continuous state of development and it takes a very diligent environment to be able to manage that successfully and not have service interruptions.”
Call centre technology is far from basic, and, as Von Maltitz points out, when an organisation is responsible for its own technology, the most talented people internally will need to troubleshoot challenges whenever they crop up. This means that these employees forego their primary responsibility, which is to manage the call centre.
Hosting providers, however, take responsibility for the technological aspects of a call centre, enabling their clients to focus on the core role of their call centre business.
Von Maltitz believes the telecommunications market in South Africa is moving towards the use of hosting services that take care of the technical burdens behind the scenes.