Benefits of implementing VoIP

As more users target efficiencies from VoIP, we look at the challenges and benefits two organisations have faced in real-world implementations

Converged networks offer potential cost savings, increased flexibility of working, as well as scalability and an integrated phone system across multiple locations. Here we find out how two UK organisations have realised these business benefits.

Brewin Dolphin Securities

In the summer of 2006, financial services company Brewin Dolphin Securities went live with a voice over IP (VoIP) system, timed to coincide with a move to new offices in the City of London.

An independent private client portfolio manager with 35 offices across the UK, Brewin Dolphin Securities rolled out the VoIP network over time, starting with the new City office.

With nine offices and half of its 1,600 employees now using VoIP services, Brewin Dolphin Securities has seen several benefits in adopting the technology.

One of the main reasons for moving to VoIP was to prove to the Financial Services Authority (FSA) that it had a fully resilient voice/data system and a suitable business continuity system. It was important for Brewin Dolphin Securities to get the right converged network that could tick all the boxes.

The company evaluated three technology suppliers and asked them to recommend the most suitable technology. It decided on Dimension Data, partly because the supplier had undergone an office move itself and had implemented its own converged communications network.

Brewin Dolphin Securities had worked with Dimension Data for the previous 12 months on storage, security, and voice and data projects. Dimension Data also had strong partnerships with Avaya, Cisco and Microsoft, and good project management experience.

At the time, Brewin Dolphin Securities was running multiple voice systems across its branches, maintained by various suppliers. Dimension Data suggested that the firm standardise on a VoIP platform from Avaya, based around Avaya Communication Manager servers in key UK sites, and 800 Avaya IP handsets.

The system would also use Avaya’s Modular Messaging unified communications suite and Avaya MX, a group-wide conferencing product that can create teleconference meetings quickly. It would run on a Cisco quality of service-enabled local area network infrastructure, and this would need to be implemented as part of the project.

Brewin Dolphin Securities opted for a piecemeal approach to upgrading its network, making the change whenever it moved or expanded offices. It is still upgrading the network, with a Newcastle office move planned for late 2007.
“It is physically easier to build a new comms room when you move offices. An existing comms room might be adequate but there might not be room to expand,” said Neil Bath, IT director at Brewin Dolphin Securities.

The company employed Dimension Data and Avaya personnel to run the project, but its own IT staff were also involved.

Brewin Dolphin Securities had network professionals who knew little about telephony, and telephony people who did not know about networking. “They were all fully involved in the roll-out, but they were basically training on the project, doing one- or two-day courses,” said Bath. 

The project went according to plan and was delivered within a tight timeframe, driven by the need to leave the old offices by the end of June.
“There were one or two hiccups and a few minor heartaches. For example, the fact that some of the telephone line providers seemed to stop a couple of hundred yards short in the street. But we found workarounds,” said Bath.

Brewin Dolphin Securities solved the problem by using telephone lines from Thus and Easynet to give it the telephony coverage it needed.

The network needed to be resilient to meet the FSA requirements, and also had to adhere to Brewin Dolphin Securities’ business continuity plans. The network needed to dovetail with business continuity services from SunGard, which hosts a remote back-up facility in Scotland where Brewin Dolphin Securities staff can relocate in an emergency and link remotely into the London datacentre.

As a regulated industry, Brewin Dolphin Securities fund managers and other staff must be able to record their telephone conversations regardless of the location of where they are working.

The VoIP system has freed fund managers to work flexibly, using their home broadband connections with the same office phone number. Staff can also participate in voice conference meetings with colleagues.

Bath said the project had taught him several lessons. “Never underestimate time lags. When people say there is a delivery, it always takes a bit longer, so make sure there are contingency plans. Also, there are always one or two bits of technology that do not work quite as you would expect them to.”

His comment refers mainly to an executive who wanted to conduct his meetings via a radio microphone while walking around the office. Bath had to abandon the project when the deafening feedback rendered the IP headset and radio mic useless. “It was down to the physics,” he said.

Association of Chartered Certified Accountants

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (Acca) is using a VoIP system to help it manage fluctuations in call centre traffic and cut its telephony costs by 10% a year.

Acca has 650 staff, 50 of whom work in its Glasgow call centre. The association provides education, training and professional qualifications for accountants, so its communications systems are an essential link with its members and students who contact it by phone, fax, letter and
e-mail for information and advice.

Prior to 2004, when Acca merged two Glasgow offices into one, its data and voice communications infrastructure was based on equipment from several suppliers.

Mark Devine, Acca’s IT director explained, “In 2004, we had a four-site UK network based on old buildings, with analogue PBXs which were 12 to 14 years old. When we decided to consolidate two offices in Glasgow and rent a third in London, it meant we had the opportunity to review our wide area network construction.”

Acca’s IT maintenance costs were high because it had multiple equipment suppliers, including BT, Siemens, Cable & Wireless and NTL. The system was growing increasingly complex, and it was hard to view the performance and capacity of the whole network infrastructure.

“In moving to new premises, you do not necessarily have to take your old PBX equipment with you, so it became a relatively straightforward decision that IP was the future,” said Devine.

Acca was looking for highly integrated telephony across all of its sites, and ideally wanted a single supplier for the entire network. After receiving proposals from several  suppliers, Acca chose NTL, which offered a Wan based on Cisco technologies.

“We were able to negotiate certain proof points and put together a multi-year framework that was mutually beneficial,” said Devine.

“Choosing the right partner comes down to the people. Cisco, Avaya or anyone else will do the job for you, but I will always
choose someone who is at reasonable arm’s length. They must also have a good track record and good references. If I do not like the account manager, or if they refuse to put engineers in front of me, I would go with somebody else,” he said.

Acca deployed Cisco’s IPCC Express platform with centralised network management and IP handsets with LCD displays. The deployment went smoothly, although lessons were learned, said Devine.

“On the IP telephony front, it was surprisingly easy. We found you cannot deploy IP telephony across old category 5 cabling — you do not necessarily have to upgrade to category 6, but the old cabling infrastructure has noise and crackle on the circuit and you have to test it. This is not a big job, it just needs someone with a cable tester, but it has to be done.

“In terms of upgrading the infrastructure, it was the same as rack mounting a server – though it is now a Cisco appliance, not even a server, which is far easier. An old PBX of a similar capacity is the size of a family fridge,” said Devine.

As part of the IT project, Devine sent some network support staff on courses so that they could manage the new equipment, but he described this as par for the course.

The VoIP system has saved Acca 10% of its £700,000 annual data communications costs.

Another advantage is being able to divert excess call centre calls to staff working either in the Glasgow office or in London, without affecting the level of service.

“With the older telephony system, we would have had to hardwire all the phones in the building. Now, we can use any handset to pick up any IP call,” said Devine.

About 30 call centre employees can be based at home, using their IP handset with a home broadband connection. Call quality remains good, said Devine.
One potential drawback of VoIP platforms is that they are not going to be as mature as some of the more established systems on the market in terms of functionality, said Devine.

“But in terms of a top 10 tick list, it works off the same handset and integrates into a global call manager directory. You can get just as many variations of headsets, and features like group pick-up and call forward,” he said.

The IP system has also meant that Acca has been able to introduce videoconferencing to the network with 45 Cisco VT Advantage cameras, which help Acca to reduce its travel requirements through the use of virtual meetings.

“This is deployable not just in the main UK offices, but also the regional offices and to home-based staff who are not consistently in the office. In the past few months, we have added life-size room-based conferencing and, because it is all digital, it integrates with the Cisco systems,” Devine said.

The room-based system can be billed through the UK IP network, even though a meeting might take place in Hong Kong, and this also helps to keep communication costs down, he said.

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