When I worked in a survey firm, I was tasked with building a VOIP system to cut costs and to raise productivity. The biggest productivity drain in an outbound call center is the dialing time and getting someone on the line. By implementing an Asterisk server, we could control and expand the server to our needs. Furthermore, this meant we could have remote workers. We saved a bundle of money in long distance and in fixed costs. The hosted server and the bandwidth itself cost about 80$ a month, while the connectivity to the phone network was negligible and, more importantly, flexible. In other words, if it was a slow month, the cost was low, and conversely, if it was a very busy month, the costs were higher but the money was coming in.
Since it was my server and I was billing the company for it, I figured I could use the same server for my personal phones. So I decided to connect my PSTN numbers to this system. I could now use the server as my private VOIP server.
After configuring the VOIP server to my liking, I started to explore the Asterisk API and related Java and Python bindings. My first module was an interactive IVR system to manage callbacks from the survey outbound number. The callers could know who called them and remove their number from our calling lists.
Update (2012): Modified code for asterisk 1.6