Empowering Employees With TechnologyBy Hyun Soo Park | Posted 2009-05-27 Email Print
By combining virtualization and teleworking, Ascend One was able to increase customer satisfaction and improve the productivity and morale of its call center employees.
Ascend One, which is in the business of assisting consumers who have a substantial amount of debt, wanted its agents to focus on credit counseling, and not be burdened by cumbersome support and updates of local applications. So it developed a strategy to virtualize its desktop applications and run them in an application tier hosted on servers in the data center. By enabling its call center agents to access their virtual desktops over the Web, Ascend One was able to implement teleworking strategies to broaden its business base and work force pool, while easing the costs and time involved in commuting. Hyun Soo Park, senior director of IT, explains how the company did it.
Ascend One is in the business of assisting consumers who are heavily burdened with debt. In late 2006, we began anticipating the factors that a shifting economy could throw at us and embarked on the virtualization of our contact center.
Our motivation was twofold. First, by creating virtual desktop environments for our call center, we could ease the IT overhead required to update, support and secure an aging inventory of networked Compaq EN PCs.
Second, by enabling the call center agents to access their virtual desktops over the Web, we could implement teleworking strategies to broaden our business base and workforce pool, while easing the costs and strains of commuting.
By leveraging talented staff and innovative technology, we are able to support a nationwide virtual contact center with only three network engineers, three telecom engineers and three help desk technicians, while at the same time boosting productivity and cutting staff attrition. Out of a total of approximately 400 representatives, roughly 300 are now working remotely.
Establishing a Virtual Applications Set
In 2000, our call center was distributed across two buildings near Baltimore. To support our work force as economically and effectively as possible without sacrificing quality, we needed to Web-enable our support systems wherever possible.
Our infrastructure incorporates a SQL Server application tier running custom Web-enabled applications written by our developers, including CRM, accounting, and computer telephony integration (CTI) software to manage and monitor customer service calls. Our staff also uses Microsoft Internet Explorer, Outlook and Office applications.
We wanted our agents to focus on credit counseling, and not be burdened by cumbersome support and updates of local applications. So we developed a strategy to virtualize our desktop applications and run them in an application tier hosted on servers in the data center.
Instead of trying to install and manage applications on remote computers, we centrally stored and managed all applications on virtual desktops using VMware, Windows Terminal Server and Citrix. We load-balanced the virtual desktops across 21 terminal servers. The agents were then able to access their virtualized applications on virtual desktops via a Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) session.
We were then able to use Compaq EN PCs performing as browser terminals. Most of the processing burden from Visual Basic and ASP processes previously placed on each desktop was shifted to the application tier of the multitier virtual architecture.
Before virtualization, if we had a major software upgrade, we’d need to push out 600 versions to 600 desktops. By Web-enabling the applications, we were able to facilitate application deployment and support, as well as prolong the life of our inventory of aging desktops.
My next challenge was to enable virtualization of our entire contact center, first by using Terminal Services and then by upgrading to Citrix, to allow our agents to access our data-center-resident applications through a browser using their home computer. Because our CRM virtualization had made us more network-centric, we were able to implement contact center virtualization efficiently with a very manageable capital outlay. And, by relieving the credit counselors of their technology burden, we allowed them to focus on delivering better education and service to consumers.