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The Sound Of Thinking Outside The Box

November 13, 2018

It’s still not loud enough.

Can we boost it with a software amplifier?

No. We tried that. It has to be a hardware amplifier.

I helped design our call center. We used a specific brand of computer. Everyone had the same same version of keyboard, mouse, monitor, and headset.

On the software side, it was just as uniform. We tested and upgraded our systems on a regular basis. Once a new update is approved, there is a small window during which every computer needed to be upgraded to the same software version. All the way down to the BIOS, the Binary Input/Output System, was exactly the same. And not just our centers, but all the clients suppliers had exactly the same computer setup.

The purpose of all the uniformity was simple. We were able to test a standard buildout and then ensure that we eliminate any incompatibilities. Changing even a simple portion of the build is an involved process. Any unilateral changes mean we are out of compliance. If a computer system is out of compliance, any problems that it might encounter are our own responsibility to fix.

Which is why we had such a problem. Our standard setup was sufficient for most agents. But, what about agents who were hard of hearing? With our old system, using desktop phones, we had amplifiers that went between the phone and the headset. As a missionary in Chicago years ago, I used similar devices while working with deaf and hard of hearing missionaries.

Mormon missionaries are young men just out of high school, who devote two years to service and teaching. Being young, they love to play pranks. Our apartment had a phone with an amplifier on it.

My trainer, an experienced missionary responsible for teaching me, dialed a number and took the phone into his office. His hearing was fine, so the amplifier was set to the lowest setting. It turned out to be a long phone call. Every few minutes I would move the amplifier up a single setting. By the time his phone call was done, the amplifier was at its highest setting of 10.

After about 15 minutes he came out to hang up the phone and noticed the amplifier setting. I couldn’t contain my laughter. He couldn’t either.

No wonder my head hurts so bad.

But, what was an opportunity for a prank when I was 20 was a problem for me now. I typically don’t fix problems. My job involves identifying problems and then finding the right people to fix them. That didn’t work in this case.

It’s not the fault of my team. I asked engineers to study the problem and find a solution. The issue is that we have a softphone. A computer-based phone that “lives” inside the computer itself.

Our headsets have a unique connection to the computer, not a typical headset that you might plug into your iPhone. And that was our problem. There simply were no amplifiers for this unique setup.

We could, by making a slight change to the base build, configure a computer to use a headset like your iPhone takes. But, as we looked there were still no good options for an external amplifier. My team continued to look for an option that might meet our needs. But, none gave our agent the tools he needed to do his job.

I’m hesitant to insert myself into engineering process. I moved away from the day-to-day engineering work a long time ago. I’ve found the best way to engage engineers is to give them an objective and then get out of their way and let them find an innovative solution. They will often find solutions that I never even considered.

But, in this case, they were stumped. And it was time to attempt to be creative. My boss wanted answers.

Rodney, are you aware of the issue with the headsets?

Yes. I’ve been working with the engineers, but we haven’t found a solutions yet.

We need this fixed.

I’ve got an idea. I’ll have a proposal for you tomorrow.

I realized I’d been thinking very much inside the box. I’d been approaching it as a telecom problem, or a computer problem. When, really it’s an audio problem.

I have an 8 channel Mackie audio mixer. A mixer board is used in audio productions. It’s used in recording studios. It’s used in concerts to control the various microphones and speakers. It’s used to take an input and amplify it.

Tomorrow, I’ll put together a mini-production system. A 4-channel mixer, the necessary adapter plugs, an external microphone and a set of noise cancelling headphones. A mixer board, has its own power supply. It can use this power to amplify the output. In fact, my mixer board can easily overpower my speakers if I turn it up too high.

This one goes to eleven.

(Part of the reason my teenagers don’t have access to it!)

I don’t know if the solution will work. I hope it will. I don’t see any reason it should not. But, that’s why we do testing. My setup may be the solution. If it is, it will once again show the value of out-of-the-box thinking, and how solutions to a problem in one area may be foundfromn a completely different direction.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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