AVAYA Predictive Dialer System User Group
In 1979, entrepreneur Michael L. Darland and his partner Donald L. Stoner formed the Microperipheral Corporation with $15,000 in startup funds. Located in Redmond WA, near Seattle, they developed their first product, the "MicroConnection", a 300-baud modem. The modem and software worked with all personal computers then on the market. Based on a newly patented modem device, a SoftCast Corporation subsidiary was formed to provide 4800-baud data transmission services to personal computers on standard radio stations under special approval from the FCC. That device, selling for $50.00 in 1981, was revolutionary but too early for the market. Maintaining the national 30-station network proved too expensive for the small startup company.
As early adopters of the UNIX operating system, a Shuttle Corporation subsidiary was formed to deliver dial up information services to personal computers. At the same time, First Data Resources, an AMEX company, contracted with Microperipheral to design and build the first low cost point of sale terminal for the banking industry. After gaining entry to the banking industry and identifying several unmet needs, the company restructured and upgraded its information service technology, developed a low cost terminal and entered the home banking business. This UNIX based system enabled the company to become the 3rd largest home banking service following that of the Bank of America and Chemical Bank's Pronto service.
During the mid 1980's the banking industry was expanding their credit card portfolios. Expansion required cost effective solutions to solicit new card business, communicate effectively with new and existing card customers and to collect growing credit receivables. Expanding credit card portfolios expanded the demand for credit collection personnel and new solutions to credit collection problems. Darland realized that Microperipheral had all the pieces of "the puzzle" to bring a solution to this "opportunity" that was disguised as a "problem."
Microperipheral had telephone line and systems talent, large scale network and systems interface experience, hardware design talent on the powerful 68000 processor released by Motorola in 1980 "real mainframe stuff" which "loved" the UNIX system, and the software design and development experience to drive the system. The big challenge was to combine all of these assets into a call management system and introduce it into the banking industry. This was and is the industry where IBM normally has a personal office in the bank's data center and, at that time, considered the UNIX operating system as a university experiment. While difficult, the introduction was made.
Chase Manhattan Bank, NY was the first customer to be installed and Mellon Bank of Pittsburgh PA. was the second. Darland changed the name of the company to Digital Systems and later Digital Systems International (DSI) as the company, underwent a public stock offering in in 1990 and its customer base expanded into other countries.
Darland's confidence in the product prompted him to offer a sales proposition that was never to be matched by his competitors. Darland offered the prospective buyer a guarantee that the Voicelink would save customer labor costs equivalent to the amount of the purchase price of the system "in 4 to 6 months" from the date of the installation, or the customer would receive a check for the labor savings not recovered and additional equipment to achieve that savings in the future all at no additional cost to the customer. DSI would calculate the number of months that were required to "pay back" the cost of the system and Darland would sign the guarantee prior to the sale. The Voicelink product cost as much as double the cost of competitor's products. When customer's mentioned the cost difference, Darland would tell them: "With this kind of guarantee, don't you wish that the Voicelink cost three or four times as much?"
The thing that set DSI apart from other companies was not only a superior product but also a customer service mentality that was second to none. While Darland could be headstrong and proud of his product, it was routine for him to fly customers in as a group to talk over product ideas. Letting the customer drive the technology was a large factor in the success of the product and the company. Darland also believed that each employee should understand all of the equipment down the to component level. First-hand accounts witnessed his asking the head of marketing "What is a VM2 board used for?" Fortunately he got it right; it controlled the audio to and from the agent. Yearly meetings became the norm for the users, usually conducted in Seattle in a trade show atmosphere followed by networking opportunities and celebrations. Soon the company and the Voicelink System developed what could be described as a cult following.
As call centers grew and centralized so too did Voicelink. At left is the EVL or "Expanded Voicelink". Most systems were delivered configured and tested leaving the installer to assemble, tweak and train. Agents would use Memorex Telex C-19 terminals for the host and dialer sessions and in many ways far superior to the PCs that replaced it. In 1989 a C-19 with a color monitor and built in phone cost $4,500.00 each. Low cost terminals included Falco and Wyse terminals.
Around the country and the world, actual job titles started to include the name of the equipment such as "Voicelink Manager". In 1991, Digital Systems International (DSI) asked users if they would like to set up a meeting independent of the National Conference. The purpose would be to share ideas on how to better use what was then known as the Voicelink System. Fourteen institutions (American Express, Bank of Boston, Bank of New York, Beneficial National Bank, Chase Bankcard Services, Chase Manhattan Bank, CoreStates Bank of Delaware, First Omni Bank, Mellon Bank, National Westminster Bank, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pittsburgh National Bank and Signet Bank) met that first year in a conference room at the Holiday Inn in Wilmington Delaware. It was instantly realized that much could be learned from the sharing of knowledge and the North East Voicelink Users Group was formed. The original committee members consisted of Bank of New York's Roberta Williams, Chase Manhattan Bank's Bob Frame, American Express' Jane Adkins and Bill Schmiedecke of Mellon Bank. Bill, now with PNC, still serves on the committee and for many of the early years was the only member. It would be safe to say had it not been for Bill's efforts the North East User Group would have simply faded away.
The North East Users Group held bi-annual meetings, normally in Wilmington and was fast copied in other parts of the country. The South East, South West, North West and Central United States all organized "regional" user groups. As time went on, many of the "user" volunteers that organized, and for the most part conducted these regional conferences, left their respective organizations or fell victims to the mass consolidation that was sweeping the banking industry leaving the North East Users Group standing alone. It was at about this time that DSI decided to change its name, as it would often be confused with Digital Systems (DEC). The name selected was Mosaix and the dialer name would also change from Voicelink to the Mosaix 5000 series.
The ranks of the North East Group grew substantially. At a meeting in Atlantic City, a vote was conducted and the name was changed to "The Mosaix User Group", aka "MUG". This effectively erased the geological reference, allowing the agenda to drive participation, not just geographic location.
Darland retired as President and CEO of DSI in 1992 and retired as Chairman of the Board in 1995. On April 5, 1999 Lucent Technologies acquired Mosaix Corporation. While this union gave hope to fantastic development possibilities for the dialer, it spelled doom for the user group as it had been known. The company was simply much too large to manage the funds and registration of the users. For the first time ever in our history, the conference planned for Buffalo, NY in April 1999 was cancelled! Just when it appeared that the Mosaix User Group would go the way of the regionals, the CEO of Universal Systems, being a user as well as a vender partner, announced that Universal would assist to keep things going.
More changes came as Lucent spun the dialer product off to AVAYA. Times and things change, some for the better some not. The days of doing business with a handshake with your dialer sales rep may have given way to countless pages of contracts but if you look you'll still see most of the core system lives on. PC Analyses, List Distribution and the various other reports on the character or "telnet side" of the dialer haven't changed since the mid and late 1980s. Few things can remain in the technical world that long and remain for good reason they work well.
As for our group, because of the support of Universal Systems, we would continue operations, growing stronger and larger. We are now international.
Today, with so many hardworking volunteers and companies such as Universal Systems, the
User Group can now stand on its own and continue with its mission:
Thus is born-- AVAYA Predictive Dialer System Users Group
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