Abt Associates is one of the top 20 global research firms, providing research, evaluation, program implementation, and consultancy for both private and governmental organisations and is known for its rigorous approach to solving complex challenges.

Key to Abt's research capabilities within the US are their 450 CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interview) researchers, spread across five contact center locations in different states.


The Requirements

Abt Associates had used a number of predictive dialers from different vendors but had several key concerns about the performance of the current predictive dialing solution:

  • The various dialers were not designed for compliance. Abt recognised the need to ensure better control of compliance under changing US legislation for abandoned (silent) call limits.
  • The dialers used simple dialing algorithms that needed constant supervision to keep the software running at an acceptable level of productivity.

Abt took the decision to acquire a solution that gave them manageability, efficiency, and performance by replacing their legacy dialing systems as well as their CATI solution with a centralised solution.

The replacement solution had to deliver exceptional productivity for the business whilst keeping the level of abandoned calls within legal requirements.

Abt wanted to outsource management of the solution and therefore sought to move as much IT infrastructure as possible away from on-premise solutions, with their physical equipment, ISDN connections and associated support contracts, to the cloud. Amazon AWS was their preferred cloud solution, delivering better scalability, flexible pricing structure, and security, a major concern when working on government and other sensitive projects. The solution had to be designed from the outset to be cloud-based.

Abt's interviewers were primarily based in five contact centers, but Abt also wanted to be able to locate agents at home.


The Sytel Solution

A two-week Proof of Concept (POC) demonstrated that the Sytel predictive dialer was able to exceed performance expectations, providing exceptional agent productivity whilst remaining within the required abandon rate. As a result, Abt Associates chose to proceed with the solution, deploying all elements of the solution to the AWS cloud. AWS cloud management was provided by a certified AWS partner. Sytel provided dedicated engineers and a dedicated technical account manager to manage the implementation.

Sytel's software suite, Softdial Contact Center™ (SCC), was then accessible to all five of the Abt CATI call centres, as well as to outsourced contact centre providers and home workers.

All client aspects of the solution are web-based, resulting in minimal footprint on each agent's PC. Agent phone extensions were connected to the dialer using WebRTC, simply by connecting a USB headset to their PC and opening a browser window.

Sytel has integrations with all the leading CATI vendors. Abt's chosen CATI system is Confirmit Horizons, and Sytel's extensive, ready-to-go integration with Horizons provides outbound functionality as well as inbound and Interactive Voice Response (IVR).

The telephony connection from dialer to the public network was made over the internet through an IPSec Virtual Private Network (VPN) to the carrier, Broadband Dynamics (BBD), ensuring that voice traffic was secured. The combination of BBD connections to multiple gateways and Sytel's highly flexible telephony routing ensured that the solution was highly resilient and would cope with an outage on the PSTN by routing calls to alternate gateways.


Fig.1: Sytel and Confirmit cloud-based dialer and CATI platform.

The Result

The project was delivered on time and to budget, and following a progressive ramp-up of users, all interviewers were using the platform by June 2019.

The smooth deployment and immediate business impact was recognised within Abt Associates, and the internal Abt team won an award for the project.

Editorial update: The move to cloud delivery meant that Abt were well prepared when the Covid-19 crisis hit in 2020, and workers across the globe were required to work from home wherever possible.

Damon Anderson, Abt's business sponsor for the implementation, commented, "The Sytel/ Confirmit/ AWS implementation has been a huge success, and the timing of our move from a physical to a virtual call center environment could not have been better. Our data collection operations have continued effectively and without disruption. At the same time, we kept our interviewers safe and maintained the highest standards of monitoring, supervision, and training.

"The move has enabled us to scale up well past the capacity of our physical call centers. We have broadened our hiring base to add capacity across time zones. And it's much easier to hire interviewers with physical disabilities that perhaps limit mobility. In sum, the implementation has enabled us to provide continuity for our clients while producing the same high quality results that Abt has always delivered."

About Abt Associates

Abt Associates is a global consulting and research firm that uses data and bold thinking to improve the quality of people's lives worldwide. From increasing crop yields and combatting infectious disease to ensuring safe drinking water and promoting access to affordable housing—and more—we partner with clients and communities to tackle their most complex challenges.

About Confirmit

Confirmit provides customer experience and market research software delivered as either cloud or on premise solutions. Confirmit solutions leverage various feedback channels including CATI. Confirmit products have won numerous accolades in their industry segments, including AIR2019 (Achievement in Insight and Research).

About Broadband Dynamics

Broadband Dynamics is a telecommunications network built exclusively for high volume, commercial voice customers. BBD is one of the largest SIP voice carriers in North America. Over the past 20+ years BBD has helped some of the largest contact centers in the world to reduce their long distance expense and improve profitability, while delivering the highest levels of network quality and a more personalized level of service.

About Amazon AWS

Amazon AWS has secured the leading position as a global cloud provider and enable business worldwide to provide reliable, scalable web services. It has maintained its position as leader in the Cloud IaaS Gartner Magic Quadrant for 8 consecutive years.