CTI: KBC: The IVR behind the Show

If you have ever tried to dial the Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) numbers, you
have probably experienced the frustration of not getting through. But before
cursing the guys behind the show, have you ever pondered how, apart from your
call, they handle the 1.5 lakh calls daily? Have you ever wondered about the
technology, which goes into managing all this?

Having heard the meticulous details with which KBC has been
executed by officials of ECM Asia–the company which bought the Asian rights of
the program, Who Wants to be a Millionaire–one would have assumed that the
back-end technology was also handled by its own engineers. However, integrating
the call enabling system, interacting with callers, selecting the right
candidates and finally choosing the selected few is the task of a small
Delhi-based interactive voice response (IVR) company, DialNet Systems.

With indigenous computer-telephony integration (CTI)
technology developed by Gurgaon-based Parsec Technologies, DialNet initially
undertook the pilot project in the two metros of Delhi and Mumbai for six weeks.
Thereafter, the project was expanded to Chennai and Bangalore and now with a
contract for 52 weeks, the installation of the system will also expand to
smaller towns, the first of which is Nagpur. “The biggest challenge before
KBC was whether to have a Web-based system call center or to have a
telephone-based call center system.” Initially, Star Plus debated on the
virtues of a Web-based system but it was eventually ruled out considering the
low level of Internet penetration. Today, the huge success of the program is
attributed to the fact that the telephone is accessible to a large percentage of
the Indian population.

How the system works?

Currently, there are 12 servers in Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta
and Bangalore. Each location has three servers each: the network server, the
database server and the Parsec server, loaded with the CTI software. The system
operates on Windows NT server platform.

handles the entire execution of the selection process–from setting up the call
centers to maintenance of the software and the database of questions. As soon as
the caller gets through, he is greeted by an IVR guiding him to do the needful.
After he answers the preliminary questions, the answers are recorded
automatically in the database. Meanwhile, at the back end all the three servers
are activated the moment the call comes through. The first to intercept the
calls is the CTI server, setting the circuit between the PSTN line and the
network server. The network server provides the necessary prompts and guides the
caller to the database server. The database server, storing the question bank,
gives the caller the questions and stores the response. Every detail of the
calls that get through the KBC lines is recorded.

Callers with wrong answers are automatically disqualified and
persons with right answers are selected randomly. The selected candidates who
make it through this stage are contacted by a call center. This is only an
outbound call center manned by eight operators. These operators ask the
candidates a second set of questions. Here again, the conversation is recorded
by DialNet to ensure the fairness of the selection process. “The call
center at Kalkaji has restricted entry and stringent security rules to ensure
fair play,” said JP Dutta, COO, Parsec Technologies. The fairness is also
attested by consultancy firm Arthur Andersen, which monitors the selection
process. All those who give correct answers at this stage are again selected
randomly through the same software taking care that there is an even
distribution of candidates from all four regions and later on, from across the

The KBC project is a small project, in the words of Dutta,
worth a “couple of lakh”. But considering the volumes involved, the
project has required a lot of scaling in terms of access capacity. Dhiraj
Chhabra, GM, operations, DialNet, said, “Technically we did not have to do
much customization for the IVR. In fact, it was at the lowest end of the IVR.
But we had to drastically scale the capacity due to the volumes that were coming
in.” Initially, the program started with 16 lines in Delhi, which had to be
scaled to 180 lines within no time.

DialNet has hired a lot of E1 lines to accommodate the
traffic. Each E1 line has the capacity to accommodate around 30 telephone lines
simultaneously. In Delhi, six E1 lines are dedicated to the show. Mumbai has
eight lines, Calcutta three and Bangalore four.

DialNet usually processes 8—13 episodes concurrently per
session once the request from KBC comes. Typically DialNet takes about one and a
half days to process the calls of each episode. Usually, the selected callers
are also given the option to choose the day of the episode.

Responding to the query that callers have to pay much more
than the normal PSTN rates when calling up the KBC lines, Chhabra, says,
"There has been a lot of wrong reports printed in the media. We have also
sent rejoinders for these reports but it is a sad reality that rejoinders never
have the same impact as the wrong report that has once been published." The
reality is that callers pay the same amount as in a normal PSTN call. However,
KBC also has an ISD line, which callers can use as a premium number to get
instant connectivity, but then they have to pay ISD rates.

In fact, KBC has to pay for every call that is made into the
DialNet center. Chhabra says, "It is a service that DialNet provides to KBC
and is therefore charged for the use of telephone lines, the software, its
maintenance and support."

So the next time you dial for the show, remember it’s the
technology of a small Delhi-based integrator which has enabled India to have its
own Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Balaka Baruah Aggarwal
in New Delhi

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