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Like it or not, the days of traditional circuit-switch telephone systems are numbered and voice-over-IP technology is taking over.

At least that’s what the CEO of Melville, N.Y.-based CosmoCom Inc. is hoping for. Ari Sonesh, who founded the company at his Long Island home about a decade ago, says a transformation is taking place at call centers around the world as companies abandon traditional phone technology.

CosmoCom is banking on that transformation, figuring that the more companies switch to IP-based service the more licenses the vendor will sell of its flagship product CosmoCall Universe.

“This is obviously a huge opportunity for CosmoCom, but also for our partners and our resellers,” Sonesh said.

CosmoCall is an IP-based call center solution that handles such functions as multi-channel automatic call distribution, e-mail response, interactive voice response and multimedia recording. The product also handles video.

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CosmoCom over the years has partnered with some of the biggest names in the telecommunications world, including British Telecomm and Deutsche Telekom, but Sonesh believes regional VARs and integrators also will play an important role in the vendor’s growth plans.

That’s because not only is VOIP replacing existing technology but also because of the way the technology is delivered.

Increasingly, software vendors are getting their technology to market as a service, as opposed to one-time sales. This trend opens the opportunity for VARs and integrators to set up the CosmoCom solution and sell it as a hosted service, Sonesh said.

Leron Polani, CosmoCom’s vice president of strategic business and corporate development, said the company has put a lot of effort lately into working with channel partners, getting them up to speed on how to set up CosmoCall as a hosted service on Wintel servers and customize it for their customers’ needs.

CosmoCom runs a training center at its Long Island headquarters where partners get hands-on experience with the technology and learn how to sell it.

Based on revenue and training levels, VARs and integrators can qualify for the CosmoCom channel program at one of three levels – Certified, Select and Premier.

CosmoCom executives said the company has more than 50 channel partners and planan to add more, though they do not have a specific number in mind.

“We want to select the best qualified VARs and we will support them 100 percent,” Polani said. “Our sales force does not compete with our VARs. When we hire people, every single one of them has to have experience with channel partners.”

The goal is to get regional and vertical coverage without saturation, said Sonesh. “We don’t want to create a crowded market. That would be counterproductive,” he said.

Sonesh said demand for IP-based call center technology is increasing as a result of a cyclical technology refresh. Systems installed in preparation for Y2K are coming to the end of what is typically a seven- or eight-year cycle.

Research firm Datamonitor estimates that IP-based call centers accounted for 11 percent of a $3 billion market in 2004 and predicts the number will increase to 35 percent of a projected $4 billion market in 2008, a compounded annual growth rate of 39 percent.

Not everyone is ready to replace existing systems with IP-based technology, Sonesh acknowledged, attributing this to fear of the unknown. “You still see some people going for the safe choice.”

But that choice won’t be around for long, according to Frank Shaffer, head of global inbound services at BT Global Services, Reston, Va., a CosmoCom partner. Manufacturers of circuit-switch systems are ceasing to make replacement parts and the costs of supporting those old systems are escalating, he said.

“Manufacturers have spent the money to go down this route. And since they’ve gone down this route, they’re going to drag everybody kicking and screaming,” he said.

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Some decision makers resist the change because of the complexity of IP-based systems and concerns about reliability, Shaffer said. Whereas voice systems previously had dedicated wiring and hardware, now they share IP networks. And that increases the challenge of troubleshooting, he said.

One way to bypass that challenge is to adopt IP-based call center technology as a hosted solution, which is what BT Global Services, a British Telecomm division, does, Shaffer said. When customers have a problem, BT Global Services support personnel has the expertise to quickly zero in on the cause and correct it, he said

BT Global Services has used CosmoCom technology in the last three years, having adopted it after a nine-month exhaustive trial during which BT and the vendor worked closely together to make changes and fixes.

“Slowly but surely over a nine-month period, they took it from being a nice concept to a reality,” Shaffer said.

The advantages of IP-based telephony include flexibility and cost-effectiveness, say proponents. Polani said CosmoCom’s technology is easy to integrate with existing environments and doesn’t require having everyone who is involved in customer service or sales physically working at a call center. “We take the center out of call center,” said Polani.

It also makes it easier to set up or temporarily expand call centers at busy times of the year, such as the holiday shopping season, he said.

Sonesh said up to 25,000 people can use a single CosmoCom system.