The next time you call Northwest Airlines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Allstate Insurance or New York Life Insurance, you`ll be using CallPro, a computer telephony system developed, installed and maintained by Cothern Computers & Systems, a local computer company.
Cothern Computers & Systems, an international firm with a staff of 30 in offices in Mississippi, Florida and Georgia had a total revenue of $3.8 million last year. Recently, company officials worked with IBM on a feasibility study for converting computers in Lloyd`s TSB Bank in London, one of the largest banks in the world, from Unisys to IBM.
“The market we`re dealing with includes fairly large organizations with formal call centers,” said Rick Cothern, vice president. “Some organizations have as few as 20 agents while others have several thousand agents.”
The computer telephony division started in 1989 after Rick Cothern worked with IBM and Rochester Development Group on AS/400, which provides an excellent platform point for integrating a company`s information system with its telephone system, he said.
“We got involved very much on the leading edge,” Rick Cothern said. “We began our involvement with IBM in a beta environment and soon realized an opportunity for software development in an open systems environment that would more easily allow the integration with other individual applications.”
When a credit card company is called, do you ever wonder how they already have your account information on the computer at the same time they answer your call? It works on the computer telephony system.
When a call comes in, it is intercepted and routed through an information system platform. Then, based on Caller ID, ANI or DNIS, the call is cross-referenced and routed to a specific person along with data. The call and the data arrive at the agent`s desk at the same time.
“It`s a complex integration environment,” Rick Cothern said. “To accomplish tasks, we get involved with the switch or PBX vendor. It also involves the long distance carrier and integration of the client`s software application.”
Thanks to the Y2K bug and a constant stream of newly updated technological products, the system conversion division has been just as profitable. The division has international clients and government accounts, including several national agencies and governments, including the state of Texas. As the 2000 approaches, more inquiries are coming in on a daily basis.
“Most of the large conversion contracts we`ve engaged in during the last 12 to 24 months have encompassed not only converting systems to current technology but the year-2000 conversion as well,” said Allen Cothern, president.
Technological advancements have occurred at “warp speed” since the Cothern brothers started their business in 1981.
“We expected technological advancements to come fast, they are just different from what anybody foresaw back then,” said Allen Cothern. “Before we started our own business, I was working for a man who said he would be glad when the day came when programmers weren`t needed anymore. He thought you`d be able to talk to a computer. In the early 1980s, that`s the direction many people thought it was going. It turned out to be just the opposite. Computer programmers are needed now more than ever.”
In the early years of their business, the computer industry consisted predominantly of computer programming work.
“There were few packaged offerings, like there are today, so if you purchased a computer to run your business, a programmer was contracted to develop custom programs,” Rick Cothern said. “A small business system was well over $100,000 just for the hardware.”
In 1983, after working closely with IBM sales representatives, they partnered with IBM and successfully developed and marketed packaged products, mainly accounting systems, for resale.
“Today, our primary focuses are computer telephony and system conversion,” Rick Cothern said.
Rick Cothern handles the computer telephony division while Allen Cothern is the driving force in the system conversions division, although each has detailed knowledge of both divisions. Another brother, Jerry Cothern, works in Florida.
“Even after being in business for 17 years, we are continuously amazed at what is now a huge computer market, in terms of performance, and with features and functions in computer systems and operating systems and software at various price points,” Rick Cothern said.