Open source VoIP and UC ease company comms

Open source VoIP and unified communications improve inter-office communications for a young enterprise that is growing and expanding geographically.

Open source VoIP was the answer to American Fiber Systems (AFS)'s growing communications problem.

According to Bill Ciminelli, vice president of network development and services, AFS -- a provider of metropolitan fibre-optic network infrastructures and wholesale transport services for carriers and large enterprises -- entered a big growth phase, and communications among an increasingly geographically dispersed workforce became noticeably more difficult.

With more mobile and remote workers, the old system of individual small business plans for the home workers and too many numbers for the road warriors no longer worked efficiently. AFS wanted an easier way for its employees to communicate, both internally and externally.

Straddling two positions that include being the direct report for the IT department, Ciminelli has the final say in decision-making processes. As the leading force in the move to get the entire company under one communications system, Ciminelli had to keep in mind the economic constraints that affect a young enterprise.

After investigating a number of options, Ciminelli found that the economic and control advantages of utilizing an open source IP PBX represented the best fit for this 90-strong company. Further research found that Digium's Asterisk best matched AFS's needs and offered enough flexibility for any future growth at the company.

Upon making the decision to use Asterisk, Ciminelli consulted with third-party vendors to find the best solution for combining the existing IP network and the new Asterisk IP PBX he would be installing. Further discussion convinced him that Adomo, a voice messaging and communications solutions provider, would supply the best solution to fit AFS's needs.

Adomo's recent announcement of its successful integration between Asterisk and Microsoft Exchange highlighted the needs Ciminelli was looking to fill at AFS.

We needed a system that would support the users, rather than the users adapting to the system.
Bill CiminellliVice president of network development and services, American Fiber Systems, Inc.

"Asterisk IP-PBX customers now have Adomo to seamlessly consolidate their companies' voice messaging and management with Microsoft Outlook," said Stephen Manetta, vice president of sales and marketing of DigiNex, a service provider of Asterisk.

In addition to wanting all employees on the same communications network, including remote and home workers, AFS also wanted a unified communications solution that featured one access point to messages -- whether they were voice, email, text or another format -- ease of communications among geographically dispersed employees, and other benefits of unified communications.

The decision-making process went rather smoothly, but the actual implementation did not go quite so well, Ciminelli said. Though he and his team had done a network analysis before beginning the implementation, he now encourages other companies to listen to the recent buzz on performing in-depth analyses that will find the problems before full installation.

"I second and third the necessity of IT doing due diligence on the backbone," he said. "We needed to have sorted out some of the QoS issues on the backbone better before beginning implementation."

A pilot group was also used to test out how well the migration to the Asterisk/Adomo combined system would work and how the AFS employees would use the new system. Ciminelli opted to use this test group to save the entire workforce the time and effort of utilizing a new phone system while the old one continued with everyday routines. In addition, Ciminelli said, he chose this course to avoid making the employees into guinea pigs when their time would be better spent focusing on work.

Once the implementation was complete, Ciminelli found things worked nearly as expected. The mobile workers, road warriors and remote workers enjoyed the unified communications features, such as find me/follow me, and found them useful. Workers who were predominantly in the main offices in Rochester, NY, and Atlanta had easier communication with employees outside the main offices. When implementation was complete, the company saw the cost savings it had anticipated.

"Adomo especially impacts our mobile users, who previously had to separately manage messages on laptops, office computers, office phones and cell phones," Ciminelli said. "With the addition of Adomo, the four messaging points have been collapsed into one, with the email inbox serving as the single repository for all messages."

By finding the right system to fill the needs of the company, AFS found a system that works for everyone. "We needed a system that would support the users," Ciminelli said, "rather than the users adapting to the system."

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