What is Computer Telephony Integration or CTI?

CTI, or computer telephony integration, is a fancy term to describe connecting your telephone systems and computers. It describes two types of function:

Desktop-based interactions which are designed to help users be more efficient

Server-based functionality such as automatic call routing

Computer telephony integration is particularly beneficial in the world of inside sales and the customer service call center.

The history of CTI

Computer telephony integration began in the 1970’s with the advent of the automatic call distributor (ACD). ACDs were used to distribute incoming calls to select agents based on certain call parameters like the number dialed or the time of the call.

In addition to distributing calls, organizations also wanted to improve the efficiency of call center agents by matching incoming phone calls with relevant information stored in their customer databases. CTI allowed data collected by the phone systems, such as the caller ID or automatic number identification (ANI), to be used to query databases – such as the CRM – and populate that data on the screen of the customer services team.

Initially, CTI was implemented by installing software on a physical computer or device like the company private branch exchange (PBX).

At its inception, there were many different standards of CTI across the industry, with each PBX / ACD vendor using a slightly different variation. These standards included CSTA, JTAPI, TSAPI and TAPI to name just a few. For fear of blinding you with telecommunications acronyms, it is simpler to say that it was a complex market with many individual technologies requiring custom integrations to link phone systems and all the rich customer data in CRMs.

In order to understand the evolution of CTI, it is important to remember that, at first, enterprise software, like CRM systems, as well as telephony equipment and software, were all installed on-premise, at an organization’s office or data center.

This began to change with the emergence of software as a service (SaaS), where companies could deploy and manage enterprise software, like Salesforce, in the cloud. Following suit, a new breed of call center software companies, like NewVoiceMedia, began to offer fully integrated telephony solutions through the cloud. Cloud call center software included ACD, interactive voice response (IVR), CTI, call routing and CRM integration, which providers could easily deploy and manage.

However, in order for a SaaS CRM system like Salesforce to work with a cloud call center solution, users had to install a CTI adapter program. A CTI adapter is a light-weight software program that controls the appearance and behavior of a softphone and allows agents to place calls, answer calls and transmit audio, using features of the physical (on-premise) computer.

This presented a problem – especially for a company like Salesforce whose slogan is “No Software”. It forced application developers to use a CTI adapter toolkit, which required software to be installed. That conflicted with the overall goal of removing on-premise software. Software applications caused organizations to face security issues from applications like Java, which could provide a point of vulnerability. It also made management more difficult as software had to be installed and upgraded on each agent’s desktop computer.

That led Salesforce to introduce Open CTI.

Ok, so it sounds interesting and useful, but what exactly is it, and what does it do?
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