VoIP eases communications constraints

Hosted VoIP solution -- converged communications as a service -- saves one company time and money and has liberated its IT staff to focus on higher-value activities.

Hosted VoIP is getting a new spin as the telephony community begins to explore voice communications as software applications on a converged network.

"We're allergic to the word 'hosted,'" Russ Maney, vice president of marketing, said when describing Smoothstone and its view of the Voice over IP (VoIP) communications world.

Rather than following the better-known model of hosted VoIP services, Smoothstone considers itself a fully managed communications service provider. Terming its service "converged communications as a service," Smoothstone takes the approach of offering a complete solution -- covering everything from basic dial tone to automated call distribution (ACD) and videoconferencing services.

Using the Software as a Service (SaaS) model and replacing traditional telecom equipment and separate silos of legacy networks, Smoothstone makes VoIP software and services available over a network connection from an externally hosted platform. In addition, Smoothstone offers businesses the chance to converge separated data, voice and video networks into a single provider that offers these features over a private, nationwide network as a service.

Vic Elarde, IT manager at Telular, said that six months with Smoothstone's complete solution liberated his staff to focus on the higher-value activities of the network rather than spending their time keeping the voice system operational.

With Telular's geographically diverse personnel -- it has offices in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Miami, as well as people in Europe and Africa -- Elarde's IT staff was spending a lot of time just keeping end users within the company in touch with one another.

Whenever there was a problem with the phone system, Elarde knew he would need to set aside at least a few hours to phone in the problem to his previous provider, AT&T/BellSouth, and then wait for a call back with a response -- the actual fix for the issue could take another day or two, depending on the problem.

In comparison, Elarde said, "It took one call to reach Smoothstone's support versus waiting a day or two to hear back from our previous provider, or several hours on the phone before reaching a support worker."

Along with the new freedom for his IT staff following the switch, monthly costs were less than half the amount Telular was paying its previous provider, Elarde said.

For Telular, the cost-savings benefits of VoIP and hosted VoIP had become another incentive to find a different telephony solution. With an average bill of $30,000 per month before switching to Smoothstone, and struggling to reach a customer service rep with the other company when there was a problem, monthly costs of $12,000 to $13,000 reaffirmed Elarde's decision to switch.

As a manager who is customer service-oriented, Elarde is also thrilled with the near-weekly phone calls he receives from his Smoothstone customer service rep to check in. Telular also found that using a new hosted service helped the company avoid the cost of a forklift to VoIP -- one that might not have included the other unified features included with Smoothstone's complete solution.

Apart from cost savings and more freedom for the IT staff, Telular put Smoothstone to the test early when the company moved its headquarters from the Chicago suburb of Vernon Hills to downtown Chicago.

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During the move, the server on which the company's Web site resides would have to be down.

Rather than allowing the site to be down for the duration of the physical move, Smoothstone enabled Telular to virtually move the site from the Chicago server to the New York office's server. Once the physical move to downtown Chicago was over and the server was back online, Smoothstone transitioned the site back onto the Chicago server -- without experiencing any downtime.

For Telular's remote and mobile workers, additional features have also improved communications capabilities. As its complete solution places all network users onto the same private network, the entire company is on the same virtual call center -- allowing workers to communicate with one another as if they were in the same physical location.

Telular's CEO has his own unique twist on that part of the solution. When he travels to his second home, it is as if he is still on the network because one of the office IP phones has been plugged in there.

For the road warriors, the softphone option allows more flexibility, while the find me/follow me option has been useful to the entire enterprise.

Using a number of Smoothstone's features also enables Telular to handle its call center more efficiently. As a provider of cellular fixed wireless services, Telular operates a customer service call center in its Atlanta office.

Another catalyst for the switch to Smoothstone came from issues with the previous service provider, which limited the number of inbound calls, and when additional POTS lines were needed, installation could take between 30 and 40 days. As call volume increased, the system would be overloaded and customers would sometimes receive a busy signal.

Elarde has found that Smoothstone's flexibility is invaluable to improving Telular's business -- including being able to add T1 lines as the volume handled by the call center increases, or rerouting calls to the Chicago office when the volume spikes.

Issues of outsourcing the voice network might have worried some, but Elarde said that "it never worried [him]." With the use of Smoothstone's VoiceStalk software, he can log on at any time and monitor what's happening on the voice network to find and diagnose any problems that may crop up and to evaluate whether the network is being used as efficiently as possible.

With the number of benefits Elarde has seen for his IT staff and within the rest of Telular, he is confident that a converged communications system was the best path for his company to take to improve its business.

"In choosing to use a converged communications model," Elarde said, "our cost savings alone have made our company profitable."

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