Making customer contact centers more flexible and giving call agents more productive tools are among the many features being introduced with a slew of product launches at Voicecon this week.Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco, Inter-Tel and Spanlink are among the vendors that will introduce new VoIP-based server software and applications for call centers at the show. Among the capabilities vendors are touting are improved remote support for work-at-home agents, monitoring and recording of customer IP-based calls for quality monitoring and reporting.The ability to virtualize call centers with IP and VoIP applications is becoming more important as businesses decentralize traditional large customer contact centers to save money and broaden their availability. IDC predicts that around 112,000 remote or home-based call center agents work in the U.S. today, but that number will grow to over 300,000 by 2010. The reason? Traditional call centers cost around $31 per hour per employee to run, while remote agents cost $21, IDC says.Alcatel, and its CRM\/contact center arm Genesys, are introducing the OmniTouch Contact Center Premium Edition, a product that combines the Genesys 7 contact center software with the latest version of Alcatel's OmniPCX IP PBX server. Aimed at small businesses, the product can support up to 150 agents and includes an interactive voice response (IVR) server for call answering, as well as SIP-based collaboration tool for agents, which combines presence, instant messaging, application sharing and conferencing via phone or Web. The Genesys CRM software also allows for contact center reporting and third party software integration, among other features.Avaya, along with its larger SIP-based product push at Voicecon, is launching Version 3.1 of its Customer Contact Center, which runs on its Communications Manager IP PBX platform. The new version of the software allows for more call routing rules, up to 2,000, which can be used to control the flow of customer calls to the correct agent groups based on skills, availability, location or other criteria.Inter-Tel is adding new features in its Customer Contact Suite (CCS) 4.0 for improving call agent performance as well as back-end administration of systems. For agents, the software (which runs on the vendor's SIP-based Inter-Tel 5000 IP PBX) allows agents to receive customer phone calls and e-mail inquiries in a single interface queue. Call center managers can also track voice and e-mail customer interactions together to see an overall view of a contact center's performance. A new remote management tool also allows IT staff to manage and make changes to multiple CCS 4.0 systems running at off-site locations.Cisco, with its introduction of its new Unified CallManager 5.0 IP PBX, is also introducing a new version of its Customer Interaction Analyzer software. The product runs in the background of a Cisco-based IP Contact Center (IPCC) network and records all customer interactions. According to Cisco, and its application development partner Spanlink, the software uses speech recognition and pattern matching technologies to identify trends in customer calls, such as caller dissatisfaction, agent stress, or patters of similar calls grouped together which could be correlated to events affecting a business.Spanlink, which makes call center software exclusively for Cisco's IPCC product, is also introducing software under its own brand that allows call center agents to quickly access background data and materials in order to answer customer call questions faster. AnswerCenter 2.0 uses speech recognition and IVR technology that allows agents to ask for information from such sources as online product manuals, reference sheets, reports, and other materials. The AnswerCenter is configured by pointing the software to data sources, and then providing voice access to the data through IVR. Business can also configure customer-facing IVR systems with AnswerCenter to offer self-service features to customers. The software runs as a feature inside the Cisco Agent Desktop client for IPCC.