"Divide and conquer" is Bank of America's approach as it undertakes a massive PBX-to-VoIP migration, according to the bank's top network architect, speaking at the VoiceCon in the US last week.
Speaking to a packed auditorium, Craig Hinkley, Bank of America's senior vice president, network architecture and strategic design, described how the bank is restructuring its IT organization and breaking down its massive VoIP rollout plan -- replacing over 500 PBXs with Cisco Call Managers, and putting 180,000 IP phones on end-users' desks.
"We had to look at the features and functions we wanted to deliver [with VoIP], as well as the people and the processes we will use to deliver them," Hinkley says.
Hinkley says the bank divided the VoIP technology areas into two realms: VoIP infrastructure services (VIS) and VoIP application services (VAS). Teams were created to identify who is responsible for what in terms of network engineering, testing, deployment and support.
The VIS aspect of the project involves network infrastructure: switches, routers, phones and call servers. The VAS piece has to do with the applications, such as unified messaging, customized voice-integration tools and call center software, and the XML-based applications for IP phones that the bank plans to roll out.
"As much as the VIS, you need the VAS," says Hinkley. "They both depend on each other; we can have '10 nines' reliability with our VIS - our servers and switches and routers - but if we don't have the features and functions [from the VAS] side that are required, no one will be interested in using the system."
The VIS/VAS concept also helped the company align its telecom and datacom expertise inside the IT department.
"It allows you to draw a line in the sand - and that's what people want," Hinkley says. "[The IT staff] wants to know that they are responsible for something and to know their role. VIS/VAS lets them know their role and know that there is job security through the project's process. The structure has helped put some tension at ease in that area."
With the VIS/VAS concepts in place, Hinkley says the IT group has also broken down how VoIP will be deployed on a departmental basis. These "domains" include the bank's retail banking group, regional enterprise offices through its specialized call centers and commodities/stock trader voice systems. This breakdown allows the IT group to plan what features will be rolled out to which groups, figure out where inter-domain technologies will intersect, and provide a timetable for when the domains will be switched over.
Hinkley says the bank will begin switching its branches and corporate offices first, then move to more complex call center and trader environments over the next several years, with the company's major call centers not due to go all-VoIP until 2007 or later.
"You have to create domains and take the time to define what features and functions that you want for your business units," Hinkley says. "If the customer is not satisfied with the human interface, then their perception will be that the technology is a failure."