Suncorp reveals five-year VoIP plan

Financial services group Suncorp explains its plans to IP-enable its operations to Adam Turner.

A five-year network planning strategy might sound ambitious, but financial services group Suncorp believes its long-horizon IT plans will mean the IT department remains one step ahead of the business' needs.

Suncorp has embarked on a plan to IP-enable nearly half its workforce across six corporate sites, six contact centres and over 200 regional offices and branches throughout Australia. It has turned to Avaya for a nationwide, 8,000 end-point VoIP roll out and is also embracing Unified Communications by rolling out Microsoft Office 2007 with a number of collaborative tools including video, instant messaging and integrated voice.

Avaya was initially selected to undertake a 2000 end-point roll-out at Suncorp's greenfield Brisbane Square site. Based on the success of this implementation, Suncorp embarked on the enterprise-wide rollout with the head office and contact centre program expected to be finished mid-2008.

While the financial sector can be conservative when it comes to adopting new technologies, Suncorp's IT Infrastructure Services executive general manager Paul Cameron says his job is to stay one step ahead of the business' needs without dictating how the technology should be utilised.

"The board runs the business, I run technology. I am charged with greater efficiencies at a lesser cost. Our challenge is to try to stay ahead of what the business wants and to forecast what their likely demands are," says Cameron.

"When we mapped out our five-year plan several years ago, we knew convergence such as VoIP and unified communications was going to hit so we started working towards it. We knew our ageing PABXs would need replacing so we started trialling some kit, rather than waiting until it was urgent and be forced into a quick decision."

"Since we've taken a long-term approach, our introduction of these technologies has been an incremental rollout as the business demands it or as old technologies are retired - rather than ripping everything out at once. Now when the business starts asking for new features we can say; well, here are the four or five really good things we already have in place but, rather than push it on you, we'll let you work out how it will work best for your business."

Suncorp's Australian brands including GIO, AAMI, APIA and Vero. While the use of VoIP in these outgoing call centres obviously delivers significant call cost savings, Cameron says Suncorp is large enough to squeeze goods deals out of the telcos if need be. The real benefits of VoIP in the call centres are features such as intelligent routing, work force management, call recording and eventually unified communications.

"Business typically says "hands off the call centres" because it's a key revenue and sales and service channel, but it was just beckoning for an opportunity. Not just huge dollar savings in reduced costs, but enormous increase in effectiveness," Cameron says.

"When a call comes in, the Interactive Voice Response system asks them why they're calling and then starts to map where the appropriate call centre operators are. That all used to be done in a cloud by a third party and was quite expensive and very difficult to configure. Now the Avaya kit picks that up that function and we just tell in where all the people reside - which can be anywhere with an IP telephone."

Suncorp's roadmap also includes embracing unified communications, with initial features including presence, integrating telephones with desktop video conferencing, and capturing voice mail as a digital recording to send to other devices. The project requires close cooperation between Suncorp's key technology vendors, Cameron says.

"We've got two key vendors, Avaya and Microsoft. You only need two.

Avaya is pretty good with telephony which merges into the Unified Communications space. Microsoft is pretty good with Unified Communications and they are trying to merge into the telephony space.

What we did is draw a line somewhere down the middle and said these areas are where we will buy products from one of you and the two of you need to work together," he says.

"Quite frankly I have been pleasantly surprised how well these two organisations have worked together. At first we thought they are going to kill each other and they kind of stood at ten paces and looked over their shoulders at each other. Now they're working very cohesively and I think they will develop a pretty good working relationship."


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