Focus Services Crushes Call Center Latency, Boosts Security with Cato

“Long -haul traffic from international locations to customers in the U.S. now gets MPLS-like performance. That has really helped our sales and deployment.”

The Challenge: Call Center Latency

Once upon a time, call centers relied on analog telephone lines to deliver the services their revenues depend on. Now that analog lines have been replaced with digital VoIP and call center Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) systems have largely moved to the cloud, fast, reliable WAN connections are critical to call center success. With more call center employees working from home–particularly since Covid-19–fast remote access is a growing requirement as well.

Focus Services, a global outsourced call center provider with 10 call centers in North America, three in Central America, and one in the Philippines is no exception. Not only must its WAN connections be fast, stable, and reliable, they must also deliver low latency or else voice quality will degrade, according to Bill Wiser, Vice President of IT for Focus Services.

“We were gaining a lot of international business, so better, more cost-effective global connectivity options were vital,” says Wiser.

Before Cato, Focus Services relied on carrier MPLS to connect its North American call centers, but had to settle for Internet VPN’s internationally because MPLS options were just too expensive. “We were gaining a lot of international business, so better, more cost-effective global connectivity options were vital,” says Wiser.

Latency and poor voice quality plagued its international long-haul VPN connections until Focus deployed an intelligent BGP routing solution. “The solution could monitor and prioritize traffic based on usage and switch providers and routes if latency became an issue,” says Wiser. “It was fairly effective, particularly in the Philippines, where traffic might take 12 to 15 hops to get to the U.S.”

However, while latency improved, there were still issues and limitations. “We had to deal with a complex piece of hardware and handle a fair amount of administration, including updates,” says Wiser And while the intelligent routing solution could analyze traffic and switch providers when necessary, it still had to send traffic over the sometimes unreliable Internet. “There were still many times when we had to go in there and promote certain types of traffic manually to mitigate latency issues,” says Wiser, “and the solution didn’t handle inbound traffic nearly as well as outbound.”

Focus Services Investigates SD-WAN, Chooses Cato

Even though most of the issues lay abroad, Focus decided to begin its SD-WAN and Cato journey in North America initially, then spread the solution to Central America, with the Philippines rollout expected in 2021.

“We looked at SD-WAN as a way to get rid of our expensive domestic MPLS circuits and use the savings to add some Internet redundancy with different providers,” says Wiser. “We could then use SD-WAN to offer rollover reliability of the network.”

At first, Focus worked with a solution provided by one of its technology partners, but things didn’t go very well. “They were reselling one of the big mainstream SD-WAN solutions,” says Wiser, “but the vendor had little experience with it, so they were struggling. It didn’t seem like the right solution for our call center case anyway.”

Wiser sought a more customizable solution, particularly when it came to resilience and one that had a good international presence so he could eventually roll out critical international locations into the solution without much effort.

That was when another technology partner introduced Focus to Cato. “They thought Cato could provide all we were looking for, including some of the features of the existing intelligent routing solution we liked, together with all that SD-WAN automation and ease of management.”

Cato connects all global enterprise network resources — including branch locations, mobile users, and physical and cloud datacenters — into a single secure, global, cloud-native network service. With all WAN and Internet traffic consolidated in the cloud, Cato applies a suite of robust security services to protect all traffic.

Connecting a location to Cato is just a matter of installing a simple Cato Socket appliance, which connects to the nearest of Cato’s more than 55 globally dispersed points of presence (PoPs). At the local PoP, Cato provides an onramp to its global backbone and security services. The backbone is not only privately managed for zero packet loss and 5 9’s uptime, it also has built in WAN optimization to dramatically improve throughput. Cato monitors network traffic and selects the optimum path for each packet across the Cato backbone. Mobile users run across the same backbone, benefiting from the same optimization features, improving remote access performance.

Cato Delivers the Goods

It didn’t take long for Wiser to settle on Cato. “We looked at some other solutions but only tested Cato because it was much more cost effective and easier to use than the others,” says Wiser. “The manageability of Cato was also pretty awesome. We love being able to pinpoint network issues and use the visual log to dive into them. We never had this visibility with our previous firewalls.”

“Long -haul traffic from international locations to customers in the U.S. now gets MPLS-like performance. That has really helped our sales and deployment.”

Cato’s converged backbone was another deciding factor, particularly for its Central America locations. “The other solutions were still working off installed lines,” says Wiser. ”We liked that we could get on that WAN that Cato has already put a lot of time and money into and use it to drop out close to the endpoint. Long -haul traffic from international locations to customers in the U.S. now gets MPLS-like performance. That has really helped our sales and deployment.”

“It’s pretty awesome to hit that Cato network and see that traffic prioritized all the way through to the cloud, rather than just close to our site.”

The fast backbone connection most of the way to its ACD cloud service was a big plus. “QOS was always a struggle before Cato, says Wiser. “It’s pretty awesome to hit that Cato network and see that traffic prioritized all the way through to the cloud, rather than just close to our site.”

“Now we can duplicate traffic across both providers rather than just failing over, which is huge when you’re dealing with voice traffic. Voice doesn’t degrade nearly as often as it did before.”

Focus also liked using dual active/active ISP routes to the local Cato PoP. “Our intelligent routing solution was just a best route tool,” says Wiser. “Now we can duplicate traffic across both providers rather than just failing over, which is huge when you’re dealing with voice traffic. Voice doesn’t degrade nearly as often as it did before.”

Cato Cures Covid-19 WFM Woes

Focus didn’t incorporate Cato’s security services at first because it already had its own firewalls, Web filtering, and other security capabilities in place. That all changed when Covid-19 struck.

“Like other companies, we had to move a lot of people home for work, including call center reps and our administrative staff. As we added hundreds of work-from-home users to our Cato account, we started ramping up its security services too. Now we’re using Cato’s internal traffic filtering and Web filtering to take over some of the things we were doing with our firewalls. It all happened so fast, thanks to Cato, and was a life saver.”

Cato has now replaced Focus Services’ mainstream vendor firewall/VPN solutions, which were originally serving only about 30 admin and IT users. “They were pretty limited compared to what Cato offers.”

Cato’s malware protection and IPS are big goals for the future. “Covid-19 slowed us down a bit, so that’s definitely down the road. Before Covid we had lots of great plans, but they were delayed.”

All in all, Cato has been a boon to the company’s call center business. “We’re very happy with the product and look forward to expanding its use to the Philippines.


Focus Services selects Greenville for new customer solution center

Greenville, N.C. Jun 11, 2020 (WNCT)

Utah-based Focus Services LLC, a global innovator in customer contact solutions, has selected Greenville, NC for a new 380-seat customer solutions center.

The facility is located in the former Concentrix building in Indigreen Corporate Park.

“Having Focus Services, a leader in their industry, invest in our community and create jobs is very exciting,” said Kim Bell, Board Chair of the Pitt County Development Commission, “This industry sector continues to expand, and we are committed to helping Focus Services grow and thrive in Pitt County.”

To join the Focus Services team in Greenville please apply online or call 252-558-4700. The job description and application can be found here.

“To have a company in the process of creating 550 jobs in Pitt County is huge in any year, but even more so in these uncertain times,” said Scott Darnell, Executive Director of the Pitt County Development Commission. “We are proud to have Focus Services here as a new member of our distinguished corporate community, which has a rich history of resilience, innovation, and growth.”


Arrival of FOCUS Services returns telecom operations to downtown Tarboro along with a $1 million capital investment

Raleigh, N.C. April 22, 2020 (eRelease NC Department of Commerce)

Utah-based FOCUS Services LLC, a global innovator in customer contact solutions, will create up to 200 jobs at a new operations center in Tarboro, Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland announced today. The company’s plans, which includes a $1 million capital investment, mark a return of the telecommunications sector to Tarboro, onetime headquarters of Carolina Telephone & Telegraph.

“Today’s announcement by FOCUS fuels new energy and job growth for downtown Tarboro and brings additional diversification to Edgecombe County’s economy,” Secretary Copeland said. “Sustained, heightened demand for telephone and computer-based customer contact solutions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is renewing opportunity for one of our state’s most storied rural downtowns.”

Founded in 1995 and headquartered in Roy, Utah, Focus Services operates 13 contact centers in the U.S., Central America, the United Kingdom and the Philippines. The company provides clients across numerous industries with multilingual customer contact solutions such as marketing and tech support via telephone, email, webchat and text. Its worldwide workforce currently totals 3,000. Among its existing facilities is a 380-seat contact center in Greenville, N.C.

“We are excited to expand our domestic operations in Tarboro, NC,” said Paul Liljenquist, president of FOCUS Services. “During this unprecedented time, as the world fights COVID-19, our company family continues to provide essential services on behalf of our clients and is keeping our team members employed. We are blessed to be part of a team that is so customer focused in a time of rapid change as we add as many as 200 jobs in this market.”

Carolinas Gateway Partnership, the Town of Tarboro and Edgecombe Community College worked to facilitate the arrival of Focus Services, which will assume occupancy of a building in downtown Tarboro that once housed Carolina Telephone & Telegraph. With corporate roots dating to 1895, Carolina Telephone was a staple of the town’s economy, providing telephone service to customers throughout much of eastern and central North Carolina.

The arrival of Focus Services is expected to boost Tarboro’s downtown district. In 1977, the National Park Service recognized Tarboro’s 45-block Historic District with a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1980, the town was among the initial class of designated North Carolina communities to participate in the state’s Main Street Program, which is now administered by the Main Street & Rural Planning Center at the Department of Commerce.


FOCUS Services Appoints Ben Joe Markland as Chief Operations Officer

Roy, Utah, March 8, 2019 (eReleases) – FOCUS Services, a leading provider of third-party contact center services, announced that Ben Joe Markland has been promoted to the Chief Operations Officer.  The contact center provider is continuing to broaden its leadership team in preparation for its next wave of market success and further anticipated growth.

Ben Joe has over 15 years of BPO leadership experience with international operations experience throughout the US, Europe, Philippines and Central America. In his previous assignment as Sr. Vice President of International Operations he has proven track record of success and has consistently improved KPIs and client satisfaction by leveraging best practices.

Paul Liljenquist, President of FOCUS Services said, “Ben has fulfilled the role of SVP of International Operations over past several months, working closely with team members to drive operational performance and efficiency in Central America, the Philippines, and Europe. Ben’s passion and hard work will be put to good use as we align global operations (US Domestic, Central America, Philippines, and Europe).”

“I love helping people and working in the BPO industry lets us impact the lives of hundreds of people every day either internally or externally. In the end that is what drives me to come to work every day, see people improve through habit change.  If we can do that on the employee side it creates an amazing place to work, on the client side we see success and growth for those who we partner with.  “said Ben Joe Markland on what motivates him in his new role.

Ben Joe enjoys playing guitar, singing, telling stories and spending time with his family. Ben Joe is active in his local church serving as Stake President, as well as, heavily involved in American Chamber of Commerce – El Salvador. Ben Joe has degree in Business Administration with emphasis in finance. He is also an Eagle Scout and speaksfluent Spanish.