Tuesday, January 9, 2007

What is Answer Supervision?

When Telephone Call Accounting systems first hit the Lodging industry in the early 80's, everyone knew they had to have one. AT&T was taking away your commissions for long distance calls. Part of Judge Green's deregulation decision allowed hoteliers to make a "profit" on the hotel's phones. The manual adding in the surcharges and posting these charges to the guest's folio was inefficient. Further, many hotels were giving away local calls, because there was no efficient way to record them. In the "early days" of deregulation, most of the Local Exchange Carriers did not charge for these calls. Most Local Exchange Carriers now charge for these calls. So the RIGHT decision was the Call Accounting System.

Most of these systems worked well for the properties, each one worked slightly, and in some cases, vastly different from each other. The poor systems very quickly disappeared. However, until the last few months, every system had the same problem, they could not detect when the called party answered their phone. All of the Call Accounting Systems had the same problem. The solution was the same for all the vendors, "Timing Parameters". What this meant was how soon would the CAS start billing the guest. Too long of a timing parameter meant lost revenue to the hotel via completed calls that were not charged to the guest, but charged to the hotel by the Long Distance Carrier, and not charging for enough talk time because of the timing delay. Too short of a timing parameter resulted in guest complaints about uncompleted calls. Right or wrong, your clerks took the charge off of the guest's folio.

The problem was severe enough that the telecommunications industry had to do something about this. The answer is called "ANSWER DETECTION".

There are long Distance carriers that have "ANSWER SUPERVISION" However, this signal DOES NOT pass through any existing PBX systems to your CAS. Since answer DETECTION is approximately 90% accurate, you have hard evidence of completed calls.

Enough of this back ground and on to how answer supervision operates. A pair of wires is connected to each trunk, these wires in turn are connected to a "line card" in groups of 8 or 16 trunks. These line cards then send their information to the systems processing unit. This unit in turn sends the completed call information to your CAS. You DO NOT HAVE TO BUY A NEW CAS, however, some vendors are selling an integrated system, which contains the answer detection and the CAS. These systems will usually operate just as well as having the answer detection module interfaced into your existing CAS. In other words, if you are satisfied with your current CAS, just add the answer detection.

The following questions should be asked of the answer detection vendor.

Does the product ONLY perform answer detection, or can it perform other functions?

Will the proposed system back up your existing CAS?

Does the system have a PMS/CAS interface monitor?

Are these "built In" or add on's?

What future enhancements are coming? Will the system you are looking at have the ability to accept the new features?

Can it work in an environment that has some trunks that already have answer supervision on them?

Ease of customer self service. Do you need special tools and knowledge to swap out parts, or do they just slide in place?

At what trunk size does the system max out? Will you have to buy another whole processing unit just for 4 or 5 trunks?

If you have several units which are "daisey chained", when one fails, will the failure cascade to the other modules?
The following are potential problem spots that should be looked at very carefully.

Be careful when buying from a distributor, they may drop the product for a different one.

Only purchase a system that will automatically allow your CAS to function, in the event that the answer detection fails.

If the answer detection fails, do you have to adjust your own CAS thresholds? Be careful here as this could prove to be costly.

How long has the manufacturer been in business? What does his financial future look like? Will they guarantee parts and service for the next five years?

How do you pay for the system? Besides a straight sale, can you lease it, or better yet, is a rental program available? In some instances it is better to rent the system for a few months in order to "test drive" it.


Les Spielman is president of Hospitality Automation Consultants Ltd., an independent consulting firm. With more than 20 years of experience in the lodging business, he provides assistance with automation tasks on a personalized basis. Hospitality Automation Consultants Ltd. has successfully completed over 2,000 consulting projects throughout the world. He was just reelected to his third consecutive term to the Board of Directors of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants. His practice is global.

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