Keeping in Teletouch

Teletouch Communications (Tyler, Texas) provides paging services to Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee. The company focuses on smaller metropolitan markets where there is less competition and more opportunity for expanding growth, than in larger metropolitan areas. Teletouch also operates the largest online accessory store, selling word message pagers, numeric pagers, voice pagers, two-way radio pagers and long distance phone cards. To service their growing number of customers, Teletouch uses a wide network of resellers. These resellers are generally wireless communications companies that sell Teletouch products to their customers.

The resellers must access critical information from "In-Touch", which is Teletouch’s internal pager activation, billing and general accounting system. Resellers rely on this system to remotely activate a customer’s pager, verify credit, set-up the customer’s account and for billing.

It’s important to have quick and reliable access to the In-Touch system because a customer can’t leave with an activated pager if the system is unavailable to the reseller. However, gaining access was becoming increasingly more difficult, due to the fact that their resellers were using a dial up connection to connect to the In-Touch system. Using a dial up was costing Teletouch a lot of money, especially over the toll free circuits that were being provided. As the amount of resellers outlets increased, so did the traffic on their incoming phone lines. As traffic increased so did the number of busy signals, which in turn effected the overall operations of the resellers. Neither Teletouch, nor the resellers, wanted customers waiting do to a busy signal. Any delay was unacceptable to a reseller who would wait to get an open line to activate their new pagers and complete the customer’s transactions. Teletouch was using older technology and they knew that to remain competitive, they would need to take advantage of the latest in wireless technologies.

Teletouch’s In-Touch application runs on a Sun ES350 with a Solaris operating system that fulfills the needs of several hundred concurrent users. Teletouch wanted to increase the number of resellers using their system simultaneously. They had a problem and they needed to solve it. That task was the responsibility of Teletouch’s Manager of Information Systems, Rick Fry.

"What I was looking for was a Web-based solution that would allow our resellers to connect to our system quickly and easily. I didn’t want them to have to learn any new programs, and I wanted the information they needed to look the same as it has always looked." states Fry.

Teletouch’s WAN uses a very diverse mix of point-to-point leased lines, ISDN, Frame Relay, Cable Modem, XDSL and POTS dial-up, depending on the relative size of the retail location. "We have kiosks in malls that use dial-up, and medium sized retail locations that use ISDA, Cable and DSL to connect to the Internet" says Fry. "For those locations using the Internet to connect to our private network, we use Watchguard Firebox VPN server and Watchguard SOHO/TC appliances to encrypt data being transmitted over the Internet".

Fry had the responsibly of finding the right product for his company, as well as making sure all of Teletouch's resellers could adapt easily to a new system. After doing extensive test installations and hands-on evaluations of other software products, he chose PowerTerm WebConnect from Ericom software. With PowerTerm WebConnect, corporations can allow partners, employees and branch offices to run mission-critical applications via the Web and from any Java-enabled desktop with full security.

"WebConnect was one of only a few products on the market today that allowed us to use active X instead of Java to connect to a server that is behind our firewall" explains Fry. "This allowed us to use Internet Explorer as a browser at our remote dealer locations and stay within the Windows environment. WebConnect, that was installed on our server, provided the gateway to the host computer."

Now, when a reseller sells one of Teletouch’s pagers, the reseller opens a Web browser on his/her computer and goes to the Teletouch Web site. Once there, the reseller clicks a link that connects him to the In-Touch system. WebConnect provides the reseller the ability to go from the Internet to their private network using only their browser. Before Web Connect, the reseller would have had to use terminal emulation software, such as ProComm Plus or HyperTerminal, to connect to In-Touch via a modem. Not only would that be expensive for Teletouch, but also it would be difficult to support because of the complexities of configuring such software at each reseller location.

"We are going to evaluate the feasibility of moving all of our back office staff to Web Connect for accessing In-Touch," states Fry. "We currently use standalone terminal emulation software with about 200 installations company-wide. Web Connect is appealing because of the ease of deployment and support that a Web-based solution offers our small IS group".

Now that PowerTerm WebConnect is part of their system, Teletouch will begin decreasing the number of modem lines coming into their system. This will help to cut costs and offer a higher level of service to their resellers. The new Web-based system will also eliminate busy signals, wasted time and help the resellers to quickly serve their customers.

Judith Stolpner is the co-founder of USA Marketing Associates, a Massachusetts marketing communications and consulting company.