In common with many organisations of its size, a key challenge for Four Seasons Health Care was to find a cost effective way of managing communications across the whole company.
Four Seasons is the largest care home owner and operator in the UK, with 400 homes for the elderly and eight specialised care centres in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In late 2002, the organisation decided to improve efficiency by centralising its administration and accountancy functions into a new building in Darlington.
"With the re-organisation of our administration and accountancy functions to the new site in Darlington, we wanted to be sure we were putting in the most up-to-date technology,"says John Brogan, group IT manager, Four Seasons. "And having read much about the cost savings generated by IP telephony, it seemed a good option to investigate."
Telecoms supplier BT carried out a full audit of the organisations' communications requirements in January 2003. The process involved an analysis of the technology used at Four Seasons' other sites, in particular at its second main site in Wilmslow, which takes the majority of the internal traffic.
The Wilmslow site had had a high specification PBX installed recently, rendering a complete overhaul unnecessary. However, it was important to make internal calls between the two sites more cost effective. Therefore, IP handsets were connected to the existing data network, and then - with a Cisco IP-enabled switch - connected users to the network in Darlington.
The supplier also recommended that a converged network infrastructure be deployed at the Darlington site, allowing voice and data traffic to run across one network, and reducing the cost associated with network maintenance.
The solution, based on Cisco AVVID (Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data), is scalable and allows Four Seasons to extend IP to its other sites in the future.
"The Cisco AVVID architecture ensures we have the future-proofing and Quality of Service assurance we require," says Brogan.
The solution is also protected through use of SRST (Survivable Remote Station Telephony), which ensures that, in the unlikely event of system failure, all voice traffic will be routed via an ISDN connection and operations will be maintained.
"Security and reliability are priorities. As a healthcare provider, our staff often have to discuss personal patient details or need information at short notice. BT IP Clear and the ISDN backup gave us the peace of mind to migrate to IP telephony," Brogan adds.
Looking to the future, Four Seasons is also connecting its healthcare sites to the new IP network, the first of which, The Huntercombe Roehampton Hospital, went live in December 2003.
"The beauty of the solution is that we could IP-enable The Huntercombe Roehampton Hospital without any major network upgrades. [We] simply installed a Cisco IP-enabled switch into the existing data network. Once the IP phones were linked, we were ready to go," he comments.
The Huntercombe Roehampton Hospital proved an excellent test bed and resulted in considerable cost savings for Four Seasons: rather than having to install a new PBX system at the site, the only cost was the installation of IP handsets and routers.
"In short, [we now have] a straightforward path to IP integration across the whole business," concludes Brogan. "And it's clear the new infrastructure will save us a considerable amount of money."
Money that can be invested in new facilities and raising the standard of care Four Seasons provides to an even higher level.