Cisco blazes trails at sandwich shops

Cisco's vision of integrated voice and data applications is being implemented at 26 Subway sandwich shops in Arizona.

Les White's 26 Subway sandwich shops in southern Arizona serve old-fashioned lunch favorites, but they are on the cutting edge of what Cisco Systems wants to see happen in small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) around the world.

At the Subway shops owned and operated by White's company, Zeus Nestora, a franchisee in Tucson, Arizona, business applications such as managing employee hours and reporting daily bank deposits have been placed on IP (Internet Protocol) phones. Because those phones are linked over a combined voice and data network, those functions and the information they generate can be centralized, helping the franchise owner run its overall business, White said.

Cisco's aim, achieved through partners such as systems integrators and application developers, is to deploy communications systems for SMBs that also help run the businesses and are customized rather than one-size-fits-all, said Richard McLeod, director of business development for voice at Cisco. The San Jose, California, company was set to announce the Subway deal on Tuesday at the Cisco Partner Summit, in San Diego.

Cisco and other vendors that hail from both the data networking and telephony worlds are bringing together voice, shared data applications, text messaging and videoconferencing as packets on multipurpose IP networks. They're also working to integrate those forms of communication with business applications.

Zeus Nestora has grown from just five stores in 1995 and previously had inefficient ways of carrying out some tasks. For example, when an employee failed to show up for a shift, another employee would have to spend as much as a half hour making calls to find a replacement worker, White said. Now, the employee can record a message on the Cisco 7970G IP phone in each store. and send it out to managers and off-duty employees simultaneously, then wait for a call back. In stores with no more than five employees, making as many as 200 sandwiches per hour during the lunch rush, saving a half hour of employee time is significant, White said.

Employees also use the phone to clock in and out as they start and end their shifts. Before they do, the phone plays a daily inspirational message that White records and stores on the system. Another application can make the phone play instructions (currently recorded by White) at certain times of the day, such as to put bread in the oven.

White used to give messages to managers and rely on them to pass them on. "This device ... allows me to communicate on the front lines," he said.

Five stores have the new system so far. When the deployment is complete, each store will have just one or two cash registers and one 7970G phone, White said. Using PCs to run the applications would be less secure, more expensive and a temptation to the mostly young employees to play games, he said. Each site also has a Cisco switch and an Integrated Services Router, Cisco's popular multipurpose device for SMBs and branch offices, according to Mike Fong, chief executive officer of Calence, in Tempe, Arizona, which designed and built the infrastructure.

On top of the Cisco phones and infrastructure, Zeus Nestora is using customized applications developed by IPcelerate. The applications are based on a common set of building blocks created by IPcelerate, said John Moore, director of applications consulting at the Dallas software developer, which specializes in converged voice and data networks.

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