Tuesday, February 10, 2009

VoIP goes corporate -- and saves users plenty

Making the move to VoIP can be expensive, but users say the flexibility and additional features are worth it

With clients already skittish over the downturn in the financial markets, Benefit Consultants Group wanted to make sure its agents and brokers could be reached anytime without long waits. That included during a recent fire drill, when everyone had to leave the building.

From the parking lot, staffers using VoIP phones were able to reprogram calls coming into the switchboard to go directly to their VoIP phones. As a result, during that half-hour, BCG employees continued to answer calls and clients were none the wiser.

BCG is amid a raft of new enterprise VoIP customers. In early February, the Social Security Administration's core VoIP network was completed. The new system is expected to become one of the largest enterprise VoIP deployments in the world, and is already supporting more than 125 offices and more than 33,500 calls daily.

VoIP technology is certainly not new, but it has matured to the point that there are more applications to help reap significant cost benefits and efficiencies. "This is not about 'here's a new way to make a phone call,' but a new way to communicate,'' observes Bob Hafner, a managing vice president at Gartner Inc. "I'm telling customers they have to move forward with IP technology" since companies that unify communications with business processes over the long term -- merging voice with data, in other words -- will "absolutely" see costs go down.

Not that businesses will soon have much of a choice. Hafner says there isn't one voice vendor that is still doing research and development on TDM (time-division multiplex), the analog technology found inside traditional PBXs.

For its part, BCG also had loftier goals. Officials wanted the ability to monitor calls to determine whether questions were being answered correctly about investment products and that customers were being spoken to in an appropriate manner. But the retirement plan and consulting firm knew it couldn't get such information from its traditional phone system. And company officials had grown weary of the long response times and mediocre service they experienced when their phone system needed repair.

"We were pretty upset with our [former] phone system in that there was a lot of downtime and the time it took to get someone to repair it and bring it back up was getting longer,'' says BCG CEO Robert Paglione. "Someone had to come here to fix [the system] and when they'd come they'd point fingers at someone else and ... there was a lot of going back and forth. In our business we can't have down time."

So the Delran, N.J.-based BCG opted to completely do away with regular phone lines and instead has switched over to VoIP phones. BCG is using hosted VoIP software from BroadWorks Inc., which gives it the ability to capture real-time data and generate reports as well as seamlessly transfer calls anywhere an employee is located.

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