MCI WorldCom puts network in users' hands

Corporate telecommunications customers can look forward to taking control of their voice and data services, as MCI WorldCom later this month launches MCI WorldCom Interact, a suite of self-service applications for managing telecommunications functions.

By using MCI WorldCom Interact, which is available now and will be announced at ComNet in Washington on January 26, businesses will have Web-based tools that enable control of day-to-day telecommunications network operations, including active network management, service analysis, service ordering, and payment processing. Currently, business customers must notify MCI WorldCom support staff to handle such requests.

For example, customers can use Interact to dynamically change network configurations and allocate bandwidth as needed, said Ron McMurtrie, vice president of product marketing at MCI WorldCom.

In addition, customers can monitor network traffic to make sure MCI WorldCom abides by a service-level agreement. Business customers can also order new products, such as pagers, phone lines, and calling cards, as well as provision services online.

Interact is available immediately to MCI business customers at no extra charge.

"This lets customers have access to our products and be the enabler, as well as the controller, of different aspects of these services," McMurtrie said.

Sprint and AT&T were both unavailable for comment. However, observers said AT&T has similar components but does not yet offer a comprehensive package.

Users were enthusiastic about the ability to take telecommunications matters into their own hands.

"It sounds like a very interesting system," said Erik Salmonson, an IS manager at Zimmerman Crowe Design, in San Francisco. "Having the option to make changes yourself and for the changes to take effect right then is nice. Then you don't have to get on the phone and wait an hour to change just a checkbox on your [MCI] account."

Analysts also praised Interact.

"This is the deployment of applications and services that genuinely empower an organisation," said Jilani Zeribi, an analyst at Current Analysis, in Sterling, Virginia. "Everyone has fibre in the ground, but it's another thing to say you're enabling the network to give applications that customers want and need -- that's where the coup for MCI WorldCom is."

Eileen Eastman, an analyst at the Yankee Group, in Boston, agreed, and also noted that the real-time traffic monitoring is a plus, as "customers don't want someone telling them what happened, if there's an issue or a problem. They want to know it now and address it now."

In addition, users and analysts specifically applauded the network management element.

"Traffic goes up after having our Web site showcased on TV or radio, so if we could easily allocate 50 per cent more bandwidth, that sounds good," said Keith Waldorf, chief information officer at the Employers' Medical Network, in Sacramento, California.

"Bandwidth-on-demand in whatever way one can get it is something everyone has been after for some time," Eastman said. "Overall, customers have been dying for this kind of system, and my only criticism [about Interact] is why did it take so long?"

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