Essentially all major workforce management (WFM) systems provide forecasting and agent adherence functionality. To accomplish this they must interface with your automatic call distributor to receive various statistical data items.
WFM Forecasting and Your Automatic Call Distributor or ACD
The critical pieces of information required for WFM forecasting functionality are:
- Calls Offered
- Average Handling time
Typically, other data items are also collected by the WFM system to allow a full complement of reporting functionality from within the WFM product itself – such as:
- Calls Handled
- Calls Abandoned
- Percentage of Calls Answered
- Average After Call Handling Time
- Average Speed to Answer
- Staff Online
- other custom fields on a per customer/ACD basis…
This information can be received from various automatic call distributor sources such as standard MIS reports, custom reports, data feeds, or by direct query of the ACD for the specific data items. Inevitably, the data received from the ACD is processed (parsed) and stored in the WFM system’s database for use by forecasting and reporting modules.
The methods used by WFM systems to interface to the ACD consist of:
- Serial Port Connection (RS232)
- Network File Transfers (typically using FTP)
- Direct ACD Query (via an API, etc.)
With serial port connections, the WFM system typically connects to the RS232 printer port on your automatic call distributor and passively receives specific reports that have been scheduled for use by the WFM system. This method is fairly straightforward, but is becoming less common in favor of more robust network methods. It can also be somewhat problematic due to the extra configuration and logistics involved with the serial connection.
The file transfer method is the most common method in use. This method involves the transfer of report files from the automatic call distributor to the workforce management system in a standard text format. This is also a “passive” method since the reports involved are scheduled by the ACD and the WFM system acts as a passive recipient by monitoring a directory for arrival of new report files. This transfer of the files between the ACD and WFM system can be accomplished in several ways:
- The ACD can transfer the report files to the WFM system using FTP
- The ACD can deposit the report files on a shared drive on the WFM system, or ACD server itself
- The WFM system can retrieve the report files from the ACD using FTP (or some other method)
These different file transfer modes involve varying degrees of configuration and security consideration, with the most common method being transfer of report files from the ACD to the WFM system using FTP.
Direct ACD Query via an API or direct database table queries, etc. is the final method that WFM systems use to collect forecast and reporting data. This method is considered an “active” process since the WFM system is under control of what information is requested and when it is requested. This is the most efficient way of retrieving the information, but also involves other issues such as external access to your ACD, security, etc. This method is becoming more popular as ACDs continue to expand functionality in this area, but it is currently not available on all switches, especially older or smaller ones.
WFM Adherence and Your ACD
A second reason that WFM systems interface with ACDs is to gather real-time information regarding agent activities. This information is used to determine agent adherence to schedules produced by the WFM system. Other real-time information may also be available, such as calls in queue, but the most common is agent state information.
Some of the data items typically collected for schedule adherence include:
- Agent Login IDs
- Agent Extensions
- Agent States (Activity)
- Time in State
Real-time data is typically received from the ACD every 2-60 seconds, depending on the switch. This allows the WFM system to provide an up-to-the-second monitoring functionality.
Each automatic call distributor provides this information in a different format, requiring unique interfaces by the WFM system. Some ACDs may not be able to provide this information at all – typically the older or smaller ones. This real-time interface may also require the purchase of additional functionality from the ACD manufacturer and/or the WFM system developer since this feature is usually considered a value-added or optional function.
The typical methods available to interface to the ACD for the collection of real-time data consist of:
- Network TCP/IP (via API, etc.)
- Serial Connection (RS232)
- File Transfers
By far, the most common method is via Network TCP/IP communication using a specific ACD vendor messaging format (API), or vendor provided toolkit. Other, more standardized, methods are rapidly becoming available, but are not widely used yet.
The Bottom Line
Interfaces available for WFM systems from the various ACD manufacturers can not be considered “standardized”. Establishing the relationship between your ACD and a WFM system may require some thought, research into available options, and additional switch configuration or options.
But, with a properly designed, flexible WFM system the process of interfacing to your automatic call distributor can be a smooth and relatively painless procedure resulting in significantly enhanced productivity in your workforce management processes.
by: Jim Bach
Jim Bach is Manager of External Interfaces and Web Development with Pipkins, Inc. He has been with Pipkins for over 9 years developing switch interfaces and Web applications.
“PIPKINS, Maxima Advantage™ is the only Workforce Management system today that has the flexibility to provide the complete skill-set scheduling solution. Skill set capabilities were designed into Maxima Advantage from inception to handle all multi-skilled call center environments.”