Chapter 25. Web Interfaces
A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.
Before you get too excited, this chapter is not going to talk about dialplan configuration GUIs such as FreePBX. We recognize that much of the success of Asterisk is due to the success of FreePBX-based projects such as AsteriskNOW and PBX in a Flash, but in this book our focus is on Asterisk. As such, we will not be discussing any GUIs that essentially remove your relationship with the dialplan. It’s not that we’re against these things, but simply that we have only so much space in this book, and our goal is to look at Asterisk from the bottom up. Most Asterisk GUI projects hide the inner workings of Asterisk behind an interface, and for this reason they are not compatible with the goals of this book.
Our discussion of Asterisk web interfaces, therefore, will focus on interfaces to components other than the dialplan.
What we will do in this chapter is introduce a few projects that provide web interfaces into other parts of the system, and a selection of web-driven applications that are significant, useful, or recommended. In general, we have tended to focus on free and open source applications, but we will mention some commercial products where we feel it’s warranted.
There are many third-party applications that have been developed for Asterisk. The ones described here are among the best, at the time of this writing.
Flash Operator Panel
The Flash Operator Panel (or FOP, as it’s more commonly known) is an interface primarily for the use of switchboard operators. FOP uses Adobe Flash to present an interface through a web browser, and connects to Asterisk through the Asterisk Manager Interface (see Chapter 20, Asterisk Manager Interface (AMI) for a discussion of the AMI).
There are two versions of the Flash Operator Panel: the original release (version 0.30, and is now a maintenance release only, and likely incompatible with Asterisk 11), and FOP2 (shown in Figure 25.1, “FOP2”), which is a vast improvement over the original FOP, but requires the purchase of a license for any system with more than 15 extensions.
Queue Status and Reporting
In most call centers, it is not enough simply to be able to route calls correctly. Of equal importance to most queues is the ability for supervisory and management staff to determine how the queue and the agents are performing. For this, two things will be of benefit: live queue status information, and some manner of reporting package.
Queue Status Display
Queue status will often be displayed on a large, wall-mounted panel or a reader board. Here are some of the kinds of information that might be included:
Number of agents logged in
Number of callers holding
Number of calls in progress
Current longest hold time
Average hold time
Other information might be desired as well; the goal of a queue status display is to present to both supervisory staff and queue agents a quick visual indication of the state of the queue at this particular moment in time.
Additionally, individual group or agent performance metrics may be displayed, as an informational tool.
The Asternic Call Center Stats software is available in an open source “lite” version that provides a basic status display. There are also several commercial products that offer this functionality.
Queue reporting consists of reports and graphs that supervisory personnel can use to look at queue and agent performance from a historical perspective. Many of the metrics will be similar to those of the status display; however, the goal of reporting is to allow management to monitor staffing levels, identify problems, and analyze trends.
We discussed a few queue reporting interfaces in Chapter 13, Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) Queues.
Call Detail Records
While Asterisk does a good-enough job of generating and storing CDRs, the records are in a very raw format, which makes it difficult to perform any sort of analysis on them.
Enter the CDR reporting package. In the 1990s, when long-distance rates were complex and expensive, an entire subindustry was spawned by companies looking to help other companies make sense out of complex long-distance rates. Nowadays, with long-distance being far less expensive, as well as generally simpler in terms of pricing model, there is less need for detailed analysis of call records. Nevertheless, many of these highly experienced companies have added support for Asterisk CDR analysis, and thus if you want excellent reporting capabilities, you will find a huge industry with many experienced participants.
For a simple interface to the call records, a popular program is CDR-Stats, which is the successor to the hugely popular Asterisk-Stat package. This open source reporting interface provides a simple way to examine call detail records, and some basic metrics on calling patterns.
The A2Billing project is not simply a billing interface for Asterisk: it is, in fact, a complete VoIP carrier-in-a-box. This complex and comprehensive product delivers much of the technology you would need to allow you to provide a VoIP reseller service.
The A2Billing platform has been generously released under the AGPL as open source. The sponsor of the A2Billing project, Star2Billing, offers consultancy services to get you up to speed faster.
In this brief chapter we have provided some pointers to popular graphical applications that can be used in conjunction with Asterisk. While we didn’t cover them in detail, we do acknowledge the importance of FreePBX, which provides a PBX configuration interface on top of Asterisk. If a full GUI solution for simple PBX configuration interests you, we encourage you to take a look at it. To give it a try, we recommend using the AsteriskNOW distribution, which provide FreePBX as its GUI.
 It cannot provide you with business savvy, experience in running a phone company, or automatic security, though, so please don’t think that all you have to do is download A2Billing and you can take on AT&T!