This blog first appeared on Best in UC.
We hear the mantras from hardware and software vendors, as they encourage our clients to:
- “move to the cloud”
- “get real-time business intelligence”
- “own less, do more”
- “drive revenue by enabling real-time collaboration”
There are valid strategies and concepts beneath the marketing veneer of these catch-phrases, but what is the foundation for even considering these pitches? How does a small business or mid-sized enterprise evaluate if there is any relevant meaning attached to these calls to action?
My recent experience with a sharp-minded CIO of a regional company provided a good example of how to evaluate and navigate the myriad of options when considering network architecture and communications strategy.
The problem: A mechanical engineering firm with offices in multiple cities faced what at first was an annoyance. The company’s phone system had required expensive upgrades, yet it still was not fully reliable. Plus, the system lacked intelligence-gathering to provide reporting on call volumes, peak calling times and worker productivity.
No big deal, right? Except that occasionally, the company lost the phone system for a short time. It didn’t communicate with the e-mail system, and the company didn’t know what it was missing in regard to call reporting and CRM integration. Meanwhile, the focus of the company’s IT infrastructure had been on other applications, which had been moved to a data center. The phone system was aging, but not a priority.
However, the relatively new CIO immediately recognized that while this was obviously a mechanical engineering firm, more importantly it was a sales organization. The majority of the personnel weren’t in accounting, human resources, administration, or management. They were salespeople.
Sales for the organization required soliciting and investigating multiple opportunities by talking on the phone and advancing to the proposal stage largely via e-mail. Vaguely familiar with the details of VoIP phone systems, the CIO sought information on ShoreTel to compare against other systems. (He had a managed/hosted system with Cisco phones in one location.) Also, in thinking of VoIP, he reflexively thought of the data center to provide hardware redundancy and failover connectivity to keep the phone system up.
Thus, the CIO identified “phones and e-mail” as the company’s critical applications. He did not focus on CRM, ERP, or developing internal applications (although he came from the software developer-world), but simply communications. On the surface, ShoreTel, among others, seemed like a good fit. It was VoIP with rich integration, and its ease of management meant he could delegate to one of his managers. Most of all, the idea of VoIP as simply an application that runs across your LAN/WAN became clear. Moreover, it was a critical application, even more so than their CRM and ERP.
This may seem obvious, but not all IT professionals would feel the same way given the same environment. A lot of times, we tend to focus on our strengths at the expense of other projects or areas that are behind the technology curve.
The solution was two-fold:
- ShoreTel could provide reporting and redundancy that integrated with the company’s e-mail, CRM, and network.
- The company could utilize SIP trunking for cost savings, supporting their MPLS, along with analog back-up for failover. As a result, the company could connect six sites together with only one ShoreTel management interface
After initially discussing the existing infrastructure and some options, our engineers sat down to discuss the ShoreTel solution, network architecture, and a range of strategies. In a three-hour session, we were able to identify exactly how to leverage the data center and existing network to massively increase information flow. We also determined the next steps to test equipment and deploy the solution.
The benefit: When factoring in the cost of upgrades and maintenance to the phone system, current call trunks, and potential productivity gains, the company determined it could implement superior ShoreTel technology to improve connectivity, provide redundancy, and satisfy management’s need for solid ROI.
Now, a small regional company with several offices has its critical applications integrated to provide incredible connectivity between their clients, prospects and sales team. Plus, with ShoreTel N+1 redundancy, their up-time will be virtually 100 percent. Also, any time a customer calls, their client or prospect information pops up on the sales or engineering personnel’s computer screen, giving meaning to the phrase “business intelligence.” Voicemail is delivered to smartphones and desktops, and management understands who is calling, when, how often, and why – more business intelligence.
Ultimately, the goal was achieved. The CIO and his staff do not have to spend time micro-managing or reacting to phone system failure and shortcomings, salespeople never miss a call, management sees the immediate benefit, and the critical applications are integrated. Also, the ShoreTel Operator Console makes it easy for the four administrators to handle multiple calls.
IT professionals are literally barraged with slogans, new-speak technology nomenclature, and utopian promises. In the end, it is all about how you choose to look at your existing world and how you can make it better and more profitable. The catch-phrases don’t matter.