Ever notice those the cool looking phones in the “situation room” on the TV show The West Wing? They’re Internet Protocol (IP) phones, made by Cisco. About three million of them are in use today.
Getronics got into IP telephony early, back in 1999. The company presently has about 8,000 Cisco IP phones deployed globally, supporting daily communications needs.
“IP communications technology has won wide acceptance in the marketplace,” says Patrick Kelly, Solutions Developer in Getronics’ Converged Communications Practice. “Convergence, which means running voice, data, and video on a common infrastructure, brings a lower cost of ownership and the ability for companies to adapt quickly to changing business environments.”
Workers today who have regular telephones on their desks use legacy telephony technology – a network that’s exclusively for voice traffic. A device called a private branch exchange (PBX) provides the connections to the telephone provider from the user’s desk. Alongside this telephony system, the typical company also has a data network that links all the company’s computers to one another and to the Internet. Before the development of IP communications technology, data and telephones had to have their own infrastructures.
IP communications technologies combine these two infrastructures into one, eliminating the need for a traditional PBX. Software and servers replace the legacy telephony infrastructure, enabling users to make phone calls over a common voice-, data-, and video-enabled infrastructure.
“PBXs have a high cost associated with adds, moves, and changes, such as when people need to relocate to a new office. The process that surrounds this activity requires a specially-trained employee and can often be difficult to maintain,” Kelly points out.
Converged infrastructure reduces those costs and eliminates redundancy. A converged network doesn’t need two staffs, two cabling infrastructures, or two sets of equipment with separate maintenance agreements. With IP communications, companies can save costs by using a common support environment. They can also outsource the management of the entire infrastructure to an organization like Getronics, thereby freeing up their in-house resources to focus on more strategic initiatives.
Wayne Nummelin, director of the Converged Communications Practice, remarks that organizations serious about adopting IP communications technology should keep in mind the complete process to ensure efficient design and a smooth migration to a converged network. Nummelin says Getronics utilizes uses a four-step approach for all client deployments:
Planning is crucial because there are so many stakeholders. Kelly recommends receiving input from:
- Members representing the business lines
- The telecommunications staff
- The data communications staff, including the systems managers, network managers, and security managers
- An executive sponsor
- Any managers who utilize voice services heavily
“Assembling a cross-functional team is a critical element in successfully integrating an IP communications solution,” says Nummelin.
After the team is in place, it is time for a survey of the existing telephony infrastructure. Getronics completes a cultural usage survey to catalog current telephony utilization and to learn about any unique voice service requirements. A supplier can add some telephony applications that were unavailable or too costly when using the legacy system to the menu of available services in an IP-based system. Applications such as distributed call centers and the integration of telephony with business systems are two such services and are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
“The new applications may open new strategic opportunities,” Nummelin says.
Getronics also performs a data infrastructure assessment, surveying the following components:
- Network addressing
- Network transport
- Power supply
- Existing network services
“We need to understand the capabilities and operational status of the existing equipment,” Kelly notes, adding that this independent assessment can also help the company leadership understand the importance of its data infrastructure and the benefits of an optimally-performing IP network.
The actual deployment of the IP communications system has to take place with minimal service disruption to users. Outsourcing deployment to an experienced partner is another cost-saving measure, since it allows the company to avoid overextending resources and incurring major travel expenses.
Getronics has been deploying IP communication systems globally for five years. It uses best practices and project management methodology, essential to a smooth transition no matter the size of the deployment.
Equally important as project management are thorough testing and careful integration of new software releases. Getronics uses its own lab to test new software, replicating the buyer’s environment to make sure things work before installation. This software testing capability also guarantees a smooth migration during version upgrades in production networks.
A solid user training program is also important but often overlooked, according to Kelly. “Once we’ve installed the new IP phones, people have to get comfortable with the phones’ advanced features. If you don’t show employees how to use the features, then they won’t use them,” he notes. Training is crucial for another reason too. “We want everyone to be an evangelist,” Nummelin notes.
Getronics has developed standard learning materials that can be modified for any user organization’s environment and delivered cost effectively via the Web or in on-site training sessions.
The beginning of the management period is the time to define and execute client service level agreements (SLAs) and to launch the governance segment of the outsourcing relationship. “It is very important that the SLAs be based on the metrics and business objectives of the client company and not on those of the service provider,” states Nummelin.
In an outsourcing arrangement, Getronics manages the solution for its clients. An IT executive “doesn’t go home worrying about the system,” Kelly says.
When it comes to an IP communications infrastructure, Getronics offers an end-to-end management capability.
“We will provide management of the Cisco CallManagers; monitor the circuits; manage the applications, servers, and network infrastructure; and even provide technical support or help desk capabilities, depending on the needs of the client,” says Nummelin.
Kelly says that thorough and insightful reports are another great benefit of an outsourced relationship. Getronics has developed templates for a majority of reports that most companies request. Such reports would be extremely labor-intensive if a company had to produce them in-house. Commonly requested information for these reports includes such items as:
- How many calls are going across the IP network?
- How much bandwidth is IP telephony using?
- What types of metrics demonstrate the cost savings estimated in the planning phase?
Because nothing works perfectly 100 percent of the time, Getronics provides ongoing maintenance support for its outsourcing buyers. Its remote diagnostics capability increases the rate of “first call resolution” and obviates the need for unnecessary (and expensive) field service calls. In the minority of instances, when remote diagnosis and resolution don’t suffice, Getronics quickly dispatches an engineer to the site. Getronics also provides warranty and post-warranty support for its hardware alliance partners, which include Cisco and Dell.
In summary, Getronics has made the investments in best-of-breed tools, processes, and people so that its clients don’t need to do so. When the task is to merge the client’s voice and data communications into a single converged network, the results are cost savings, optimized workforce productivity, and increased organizational adaptability and agility to meet changing business needs.