Hosted Call Accounting

The cost of telephone calls was traditionally a reason to install a call accounting system. Call costs per department or individual could be checked or recharged to other departments or customers.

As VoIP telephony becomes more prevalent staff may feel less inclined to keep telephone calls short as they aware that VoIP telephone calls are significantly cheaper than traditional fixed line calls.

However, staff often fail to appreciate that it is not the cost of the call itself that is costing business owners money but that the cost in loss of staff productivity while they are on the phone can be significant.

Traditional call accounting

Call accounting software saves information about telephone calls made from your PBX to a computer database for later analysis.

This is performed by connecting a computer to your telephone system via a serial or IP connection to the SMDR or CDR port on your PBX and running call accounting software on the computer. This software is bundled under the term 'call accounting software'.

The legacy call accounting solution that has been around since the DOS days has not changed much. Connect a computer to the PBX and wait for call records to appear. Run a program on the computer and save the SMDR/CDR call records somewhere and you have a call accounting solution.

Sort of.

Traditionally call accounting applications are sold as cheap (or free) add-ons to PBX telephone systems, consequently the complicated database parts of the application are themselves cheap.

A hosted call accounting system places all the complicated parts of the call accounting system, that is the parts which require maintenance and monitoring, at the premises of your hosted call accounting provider. Constant monitoring, maintenance, performance analysis and backup is performed by a system administrator. If there is a faulty with the call accounting system you are automatically notified of system status giving you peace of mind that your call accounting system is operating.

Common legacy call accounting issues

Some call accounting problems can be fixed by your staff, for example turning the call accounting computer back on. Other problems may require your PBX technician to be called, for example to reset the SMDR port on your PBX. Any more complicated problem make require someone very familiar with your call accounting system to fix the problem.

Simple PC problems might be fixed by a typical PC repair man, other problems such as database issues may only be fixed by the call accounting company.

However, many people are also familiar with call accounting systems failing and as telephone dealers know repairing a database is no small task and is very different to simply installing a program and walking away.

Computer

Traditional call accounting programs run on a PC that is only ever used for call accounting and consequently only used when a call accounting report is required. Unfortunately it is at this time that the call accounting PC can be found to be not working. Very often there is a simple reason that the PC is not working and it is easy to fix, sometimes it's a more serious issue. In both circumstances you have not been recording call records.

However, as the computer running the call accounting software is often placed in an out of the way place such as next to the telephone system, it is often not until that the monthly reports are run that it is found that the call accounting system is not running.

Configuration

Some of the more common call accounting problems are things that users nor call accounting providers ever think about.

Today, many business telephone handsets display the current date and time. This date and time is sent from the PBX to each telephone extension. Every now and then an employee with just enough knowledge about the telephone system decides that they'd prefer a different date format displayed on their telephone. For example instead of displaying 11/08/2018 they'd prefer 08/11/2018.

Unfortunately what that person does not understand nor appreciate is that changing the date format on their handset affects not just their handset but the PBX and every other handset too.

In an office that does not use a call accounting system this has no affect, however, in an office that has a call accounting system receiving SMDR records from the PBX suddenly the date format in the SMDR changes too.

When a call accounting system is installed the PBX date format is configured within the call accounting system otherwise 11/08/2018 (or worse still 11/08/18) could mean one of 6 different dates. If the call accounting software has been told to expect dates in month-day-year format and the PBX date format is changed without reconfiguring the call accounting software suddenly call records are stored with the wrong date. For example, calls for November 8 are stored for August 11.

A legacy call accounting system will store the incorrect data and some will let you later correct the problem and reparse the data. A hosted call accounting system notifies the call accounting support staff who correct the problem without your intervention.

Database

As call accounting database sizes grow users find that the call accounting system becomes slower to run reports and sometimes slower just to start. One of the common 'solutions' to this problem is to run a maintenance report or to delete telephone call records. Deleting records from a database makes it impossible to later run reports on those calls.

Call accounting applications store call records in a database, and that is one of the main areas that cause problems for users. Databases require maintenance and backup either by tools that are very effective and very easy for end users to understand or provided by database experts.

Call reporting

Some call accounting reports may take such a toll on a call accounting system that they cannot be or are not recommended run at all. One of the more important call accounting reports that you need to run is a 'all trunks busy' or 'trunk utilization' report. This report displays the number of telephone lines in use for every minute of the day, week, month or longer.

This report is important as it shows you the number of telephone lines in use for incoming and outgoing calls at any time of the day and consequently the maximum number of telephone lines you use. This is where one of your first call cost savings can be made. For example, if you discover that you only every have 9 telephone lines in use at any one time but you know you pay for 20 lines you may decide that you can half your telephone line rental. At $30 per line per month, dropping 10 lines saves you an immediate $300 per month on line rental alone.

Another good report to run is the call traffic report. Here you may find that there are a lot of missed calls at the start of the day or at the end of the day. Perhaps you need a better automated attendant, perhaps you need to open your call center a little earlier and close a little later. How much business are you missing on a daily basis?

Simple call accounting

When telephone call accounting was introduced the call records displayed by a telephone PBX system were very much simpler than they are now. Simple call information such as the time the call started or the duration of the call are easy to determine. More complex information such as the reason the call terminated can be difficult to determine or may not be provided at all.

Call accounting systems now need to be able to handle SMDR information from multiple PBXs from multiple manufactures and combine all that information into a single report that can be run over entire PBX fleets without regard to the PBX type.

Other

Simple reasons for an inactive call accounting system can be things like a floppy disk was in the drive and the compute could restart or the computer is switched off. More complicated faults often lie within the call accounting software requiring a call accounting or database specialist to fix.

  1. The PC is switched off - perhaps someone did the 'right thing' and swicthed it off, perhaps it didn't later restart
  2. The PC has started but failed to boot as there is a thumb drive plugged in
  3. Someone 'borrowed' the 'used' PC for something else
  4. The PC is no longer plugged into the PBX
  5. The software on the PC was upgraded but the call accounting program was not reinstalled
  6. The database for the call accounting program has failed

The hosted call accounting solution

A hosted call accounting system provides the features of a traditional call accounting system but the parts of the call accounting system that usually fail and often cannot be repaired are not installed at your office but are installed at a datacenter where a real database engine can be installed and the call accounting database can be managed by a database administrator.

Like any other program that uses a database the performance of a call accounting database has to be monitored and maintained to allow vast numbers of records to be stored, analyzed and reported upon.

A hosted call accounting system by its very nature permits you to sign in to your call accounting application from any internet connected PC or other internet connected device such as a smart phone. By its very design different users have different sign ins and different access levels.

And of course a professional hosted call accounting provider does all of that over SSL (Secure Socket Layer) also known as an encrypted internet connection.

Setup

There is no database to install (of ANY sort) nor is there a web server to install (AT ALL), consequently configuration is simple and maintenance is just about non-existent.

A CDR/SMDR hardware or software buffer box runs at customers' offices capturing PABX/PBX records. Periodically records are encrypted before being sent to the TIM4biz data center.

Like a tradition call accounting system a hosted call accounting system records telephone call records from your PBX and saves them to a database for later reporting.

As each telephone call is completed on the PBX a call record is sent to the computer and processed by the call accounting software. Each call record contains information about the telephone call (but not a audio recording of the call). The call records contain things like; the time of the call, the duration of the call, the number dialed and the extension on which the call was made.

Reporting on calls

After logging in to the TIM4biz web site, reports can be run from any web browser anywhere, any time.

Alternatively reports, including custom reports, can be scheduled and automatically emailed to you on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Running reports on the call records allows business owners to perform tasks such as; charging calls to different customers or cost centers, monitoring misuse of telephone privileges or monitoring toll fraud.

Alerting

In a traditional call accounting environment it was only at the time the call accounting report was run was it discovered the amount of time that people were on the telephone. Coming down on a staff member with a hammer approach at the end of the month about their telephone time or cost does neither the business owner nor staff member any good.

Automated alerts can send you a simple email at the end of a call if the call duration was longer than a predefined amount or the estimated price of the call was more than a maximum limit. Providing immediate information about individual calls instead of a shock report at the of the month allows employers to take a softly-softly approach and remind staff about their telephone call habits before the situation becomes out of hand.

Other call accounting alerts such as the total number of calls or total call cost in a period allow you to stay on top of call cost and keep an eye out for unusual call traffic as might be caused by internal or external call misuse.

On top of maintaining control of call cost advanced hosted call accounting solutions keep you informed about the state of your call accounting system. Is there a PBX offline? Has a PBX restarted? Is there an inactive trunk or extension in your system.

User access

Legacy call accounting applications are designed for a single PC recording SMDR information and permitting reports to be run on that same PC. Using third-party applications such as 'Remote Desktop Connection' or 'VNC' permits access from a different PC usually on the same local area network. Adding a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection may even permit you to use your call accounting system outside the office, for example at a home office.

Multiple site call accounting installations

Legacy call accounting systems were designed to be connected to a single PBX at a single site. Combining reports from multiple call accounting systems into a single report required each call accounting database to call each other or a single master database each night to synchronize call records. This then 'allowed' call accounting across multiple PBXs.

A hosted call accounting installation is by its very definition designed to record calls from multiple PBXs distributed over multiple sites. Producing a single report for a multiple site call accounting installation is then no different to producing a report for a single site.

Managed call accounting

A hosted call accounting system removes most of the difficult and impossible to fix problems by moving them from your premises to a datacenter that is maintained by your call accounting provider.

A typical database problem suffered by many call accounting systems is that over time the system becomes slow. The official 'fix' for that situation is to delete call accounting records. In a hosted call accounting environment the database performance is monitored and maintained on a daily basis by administration personnel.

A hosted call accounting system resolves these problems by putting the call accounting database engine under the management of database professionals and monitors call traffic from your PBX. If call traffic fails you are alerted to the issue straight away instead of discovering the outage when you most need the information.

Maintained on a daily basis by the TIM4biz staff, backup and database administration is an ongoing concern. No longer do you have to have database management experience or perform daily backups to maintain your legacy call accounting system - we do it for you.

Reports, settings and administrative tools are fed by customer suggestions and feedback. We welcome your input. As updates are released our smallest customers automatically benefit from the same enhancements that our largest customers enjoy.

Do not be fooled by web extensions to legacy call accounting systems that are marketed as hosted call accounting solutions. TIM4biz hosted call accounting software was built from the ground up to be a hosted call accounting system. As was the database schema.