The Hosted Advantage: Doing better for less

Thrifty New England-based credit union solves several communications problems with a hosted phone system from VoIPnet Technologies.

By Gerry Blackwell | Posted Jul 25, 2008
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Tricorp Federal Credit Union in Westbrook, Maine is a bean counting type of organization—a wholesaler to smaller retail credit unions in New England—and vice president and chief financial officer Fred Johnson is head bean counter.

Johnson signed off on the implementation of a hosted IP PBX solution from VoIPnet Technologies last year—after analyzing the numbers and reckoning the company could save 50 percent a year on communications costs over what it would pay with an on-premise solution.

"That's a saving we'll see every year," he notes. "Plus the customer service from VoIPnet is outstanding."

Going with a hosted solution meant drastically reduced capital costs. The company invested in the IP phones and on-premise routers recommended by VoIPnet. The phones are from Aastra Technologies Ltd., the routers from Edgewater Networks Inc.

Tricorp pays a fixed monthly rate per workstation for the PBX service, which includes all the usual call routing, voice mail, automated attendant, and other features you'd find on an on-premise IP PBX—VoIPnet uses the BroadWorks soft switch platform from BroadSoft Inc.

VoIPnet also provides Tricorp with trunk lines and broadband connectivity to its facilities. Much of the recurring savings, in fact, come from reduced long distance costs.

VoIPnet carries calls over its managed IP network to points of presence (POPs) where it transfers them to the PSTN as local calls. Calls that go end to end over the IP network—such as calls to and from other VoIPnet subscribers—are free. Many long distance calls Tricorp employees make now are free because several of the company's client credit unions have switched to VoIPnet on its recommendation.

When the company originally went looking for a new office phone solution two years ago, it planned to simply replace a five-year-old, feature-poor, problem-plagued Toshiba CS telephone system. But at the eleventh hour, the company's then IT director solicited a proposal from VoIPnet.

The want list for a phone system replacement included reliability, a full feature set, and good voice quality. Tricorp employees had to be able to connect to it remotely and use it as if they were in the office. (This was important because as part of a green initiative, the company lets workers stay home to work several days a month.)

The new system also had to be easy enough to administer that the company could put it in multiple remote locations as part of a new business resumption plan it was developing.

Tricorp considered pitches from the usual suspects—Cisco, Avaya, 3Com—and was about to invest $100,000 in an IP PBX for headquarters and a second off-site system for business resumption when it received the VoIPnet proposal. It met all the requirements and it was significantly cheaper.

It came down to total cost of ownership, Johnson says. The critical factor was that under the business resumption plan, Tricorp would have to maintain two systems if it went with an on-premise solution. "The savings on the cost of managing a single system, let alone a second [backup] system, would be quite dramatic," he says.

With the VoIP PBX service, Tricorp doesn't even have to manage one system. And it was able to completely scrap plans for the expensive business resumption facility.

In the event of a disaster that closes down its headquarters facility, employees can work from virtually anywhere, including home, by connecting to the VoIPnet network over a high-speed Internet connection using a soft phone or one of the Aastra phones.

And because the Broadsoft-based hosted PBX platform and the Aastra phones are both SIP-compliant, it means remote users can take advantage of all the service's features. Even using a soft phone-equipped laptop at a wireless hotspot, they can make and take calls as if they're at their desks.

"The person at the other end has no idea whether they're calling you at the office—or if you're half a world away," Johnson says.

With four network control centers dotted around the U.S. and a highly redundant network, VoIPnet claims it can ensure virtually 100 percent up time. That answered Tricorp's requirement for overall reliability—something it didn't always have with the old on-premise system.

It was also crucial for the effectiveness of the business resumption strategy. Even if VoIPnet's nearest data centers goes down as a result of a widespread disaster—a hurricane, for example—others would remain up. "We could lose half the country and we'd still be in business," Johnson says.

The VoIPnet solution also came with some cherries on top. For example, the SIP-based Aastra 480i phones have a separate cordless DECT handset—unlike the phones included with competing solutions. That allows employees to be more mobile around the office, which in turn makes them more productive, Johnson says.

"They could be anywhere in the building now and still conduct business. The call center people don't have to put customers on hold as much while they go to a file cabinet to find something, which helps reduce frustration levels."

The jury is still out on the other cherry, an XML application that lets users press a feature key on their Aastra phone to get an instant display of current Tricorp rates and fees on the its screen.

The Aastra phones have XML onboard and VoIPnet has become adept at creating custom solutions using the Aastra XML Developer Kit. The rate look-up application it built for Tricorp is "just one of many we're now developing for clients," says VoIPnet president and chief operating officer Todd Wolf.

The XML application certainly wasn't on Tricorp's phone system shopping list, but the company's now departed IT director was high on it. For one thing, it meant client credit unions that joined the VoIP net network could use the application, saving them phoning Tricorp's call center—and Tricorp answering those calls.

Johnson remains unconvinced. "If people want to look up rates, they'll likely use their computers," he says.

Still, it's only a cherry on top. The important benefits are in the cake, and they're unequivocal, Johnson says—ongoing cost savings, lower total cost of ownership and remote user functionality to support work-at-home and business resumption strategies.

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