The digital age may be upon us, but the traditional need for telephony still resonates throughout companies large and small.
However, with history comes legacy, and some businesses have struggled on with out-of-date telephone systems for years.
The 250-year-old law firm Sills & Betteridge is one such example. Based in Lincolnshire, it has eight offices across the county and employs 220 staff, but until recently it was running five separate phone systems.
“It was very broken up,” says Cris Maiden, IT director at Sills & Betteridge. “Our main office had the Meridian system with Nortel kit piggybacking off it, but it was an ancient old thing.
“Meridian evolved after it was bought by Nortel, and later bought by Avaya, which refused to support any software version bar the existing one and the one before it. This meant we couldn’t update our Meridian voicemail, and to add just one more phone it would have cost us £20,000, which is ridiculous,” he says.
Aside from upgrade costs, the general upkeep was costing the firm time and money, with a variety of hardware at each site and the cost of calls between offices mounting up.
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“We had similar systems in a number of our branches, while others ran their own telephone systems, so I really wanted to consolidate,” says Maiden.
The search for a modern telephony system
After making a throwaway comment to his boss about finding a system for less than the upgrade would cost, Maiden and his team were given the go-ahead to hunt out a system capable of serving the law firm’s more modern needs.
“Our team is extremely flexible and mobile – it’s one of the reasons we’re so successful,” says Maiden. “Our lawyers meet clients at their own offices and at our satellite offices across the county all the time, so we needed a system that worked around them.
“We needed a telecoms system that would respond to the team’s flexibility requirements, while offering a single point of contact wherever they might be from day to day.”
Unified communications a good fit
Sills & Betteridge began discussions with Birmingham-based telecoms company Intercity to see if it could match a system to the law company's needs.
We needed a telecoms system that would respond to the team’s flexibility requirements, while offering a single point of contact wherever they might be from day to day
Cris Maiden, Sills & Betteridge
Intercity suggested its Orbit unified communications platform. The internet protocol (IP) software brings together desk phones and mobiles, as well as voicemail, email and text, onto a single screen. Employees merely have to log in to the software – which can be accessed from a desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile or fixed-line phone – to take advantage of the unified system wherever they are and on a range of devices.
Dated technology causes delays
Once the deal was agreed, Intercity got to work. But the installation came up against a barrier, as the telephone system was not the only dated technology in the law firm.
“The delay in deploying the new system was in our communications infrastructure,” says Maiden. “We didn’t have a significantly fast enough WAN [wide area network] to accommodate the centralised call handling and routing, so this put the update back by between 45 and 60 days.
“But we were able to replace the WAN and increase bandwidth by six times on each site, with the savings made from the phone systems – around £120,000 per year.”
Once the WAN barrier was fixed, the installation took very little time. “It was just a case of putting an appliance in a rack, configuring it, and passing the list of users to Intercity,” says Maiden. “It took only a day to add 200 people to the system."
As all the background work had been done in advance, the roll-out was simply a case of putting the new phones on the desks and connecting them. "One minute a user had an old phone, the next they had a new phone – it was that easy,” he says.
“The screen allows users to set up their preferences themselves, and it is very customisable, from checking recent calls to directing the landline to a mobile, another extension or any other number. Every user has access to software in the same way as the receptionist, so they can see who is in or out of the office and forward calls effectively.”
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The IT director admits it has been "an education” for some staff members, but overall the reaction to the new solution has been positive. “There have been some strange new things for users to get used to," he says, "but there haven’t been any big things, and everyone is comfortable with it now.
“The only aspect I don’t like is that the software runs in Java. That is fine for our 64-bit machines, but for those still running XP, it doesn’t perform as well. However, that is Java’s fault, not the system.”
Otherwise Maiden is full of praise for the technology: “I cannot over-emphasise how impressive this system is, especially when you have come from such a complicated and cumbersome legacy system. There are so many features that can be turned on at no additional cost that it’s an IT manager’s dream.
“It is the easiest phone system I have ever installed, and I have done a few.”