Reaping the benefits of VoIP

29 Apr 2004

Although it has yet to quantify an exact figure the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has made significant cost reductions by the introduction of a converged network to link its multiple offices. The state agency has implemented 3Com’s SuperStack 3 NBX Networked Telephony Solution, which was installed by Interfusion Networks and connects 150 staff at offices in Dublin, Cork, Wateford, Limerick and Galway.

According to Aidan Curran, systems development manager at the HSA, the nature of the work carried out by the authority means that staff regularly move around the office. “Before we installed the system we had to get Eircom in to make the changes in the phone system, which was costing us about €180 and we could be waiting up to a week for an engineer,” says Curran. The new system means that adds, moves and changes to the telephony system can be handled internally using a web browser interface — Curran estimates this feature alone will save the HSA €20,000. As well as increased flexibility tolls for inter-office calls have been eliminated.

The rapid growth of the HSA meant that the existing private branch exchange (PBX) system needed to be upgraded or replaced. “We were looking at about €15,000 to upgrade the existing software but I asked why we were spending so much on a proprietary system,” says Curran. The internet protocol (IP) telephony system was initially rolled out to Dublin, Cork and Galway but will soon be made available in all the organisation’s office. Teleworking will be further enhanced by using IP telephony as people working from home will be able to use a software-based phone on their laptop and connect to the office using a DSL line. This will mean calls to their normal office extension can be routed to them wherever they happen to be working.

Another multi-site operation that is reaping the benefits of IP telephony is Quinn Direct Insurance, which has call centres in Dublin, Cavan and Enniskillen. The company acquired its flagship Blanchardstown building in 2003 and according to Shane Woods, systems and information manager with Quinn Direct, the decision was made to kit it out with leading-edge technology – including IP telephony. “From an IT manager’s point of view, going into a new building like that you can save a lot on infrastructure costs by putting the phone and data on the same cable,” says Woods. “We saved on wiring costs, we only had to provide two data ports for each user instead of four and it simplified the cabling in the communications room.”

Quinn Direct choose a Nortel Meridian system with a voice-over IP card installed that can support both IP telephony and traditional PBX services. It was installed at headquarters in Cavan but provides services to the other offices via a 150MB radio link that links the three locations. As a result Woods says the company is able to operate a virtual call centre between the three offices with inbound calls routed to the next available agent regardless of their location. Given the importance of voice traffic to the call centre Woods has implemented a network that is fully resiliant with no single point of failure. Another benefit of the system which was implemented by a consortium of LAN Communications, Eircom and Nortel Networks is that all support services can be centralised in Cavan without the need for duplicating staff functions at each site.

Canada Life is another player in the insurance market that is using VoIP in a call centre scenario. Darragh O’Sullivan, Network and Security Manager was faced with the prospect of bringing new staff onto the company’s voice and data systems after a significant acquisition. The exisiting Siemens system in the Dublin office, purchased in 1996, was operating at full capacity so O’Sullivan chose a hybrid Nortel Networks Succession IP system, which was implemented by Cable & Wireless (C&W) subsidiary Allnet. The system supported the existing staff but also the new team, which was located in the building next door in what was effectively a greenfield site. “The whole trend in the industry is towards convergence but we felt we were future proofing out investment for not a lot more money,” says O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan also doesn’t have any concerns about running both data and voice over a single network infrastructure. “”In practical terms if the data network went down and we were left with voice we won’t be able to do anything anyway,” he says.

“The reality is we haven’t had any outage in one year of operation.” Canada Life has also integrated its offices in Dublin, Cologne and Frankfurt over C&W’s managed network and is starting to push voice over those links to deliver further cost savings.

It’s not just large organisations or those with complex call centre scenarios that are embracing IP telephony. Dairy co-operative Bandon Co-Op in County Cork installed the Siemens Hipath 3000 real-time communications system to optimise communications between its two sites that are about a mile apart. Prior to this it had two separate phone systems, which meant callers to one office could not be transferred to the other but were required to re-dial.

According to John Looney, financial controller at the co-op, Bandon Co-Op had no pre-conceived preference for an IP-based system, when it went to Eircom with its requirements the Siemens system was proposed. By centralising all inter-office communications on a single data network an immediate cost saving of 30pc on telephone charges was made as this accounted for inter-office calls. Farmers, tradesmen and other customers are now receiving a more efficient and transparent service from the creamery as they no longer have to redial if calls have to be transferred between the head office in Watergate and the main retail centre in Kilbrogan on the edge of Bandon.

“As working patterns develop and change over time, mobility for staff becomes increasingly important, so it is a natural progression for us,” says Looney. “At weekends, when both our sites are closed, our new communications system diverts calls to the shop or the grainmill so that milk suppliers can be put in contact with the employee on call via a mobile phone. It is helpful especially if a driver’s bulk tank breaks down at the weekend and the employee on call can be contacted immediately via his mobile.

By John Collins