Building VOIP into the enterprise

Voice over IP is slowly but surely making strides at organizations far and wide. According to Infonetics Research, 36 percent of large organizations were already using VOIP products and services in 2005. And a few are embracing the full promise of VOIP, which is the creative integration of voice and data in ways that change the way people work.

There is no killer VOIP application that spans all markets, but there are select environments in which the integration of voice and data are solving real-world problems. Here's how four very different organizations are using VOIP to address an array of business challenges, transforming their operations in the process.

Subway stays on track and on schedule

When Les White expanded his franchise of Subway eateries from five to more than 30, he was naturally concerned about maintaining a high level of customer service through a good working relationship with an expanding roster of employees.

"You need to be there to cultivate staff with good people skills," White says. "But you're dealing with 16- to 22-year-olds who have trouble staying on task and sometimes don't show up."

White found a way to keep up those employee relationships while cutting payroll costs by using XML-enabled Cisco 7970G IP phones with color touchscreens, together with a back-end Cisco Call Manager cluster, Unity server, and IPSession software from IPCelerate, which runs on the same servers as Call Manager. With IPCelerate software and Call Manager, White broadcasts reminders and customer service lessons to all of his stores simultaneously at prescheduled times. "Every morning a broadcast automatically goes out to all the stores saying, 'Good morning. You should have bread in the proofer, registers should be counted, deli tables should be up, and the Subway sign should be on.' An employee has to acknowledge that all these things have been done by entering a four digit code into the phone."

White uses the system to broadcast a motivational "lesson of the day" to help polish customer service skills while ramping up for high-traffic hours. He also sends out congratulations to employees who win bonuses and other rewards for a job well done.

The phones link directly into IPCelerate's time-card application, so users punch in and out using the touchscreens. The IPCelerate application implements several rules that minimize payroll costs and staffing problems. For example, the system will not allow employees to clock in early. If they don't show up on time or stay past the end of their shift, Call Manager alerts the store manager by way of his preferred device, such as his cell phone. If he accepts the employee's reasons for working overtime, he can enter a code into his phone to indicate authorization.

"That single time-card application saves us about US$500,000 per year in payroll expense," White says.

If an employee fails to show up, the ones that did no longer have to call store after store for a replacement. Instead they can use the broadcast feature to send an S.O.S. to all 30 stores at once, plus the store and area manager. This helps to keep customer service consistent. The system also knows to send SMS messages to the cell phones of potential employees with the right training to take over the appropriate function at the store. Those who are available can then respond by calling the store.

The whole process of installing DSL, routers, and phones in each store took about eight months, with the back-end applications taking another two months. Future plans call for IP-based video surveillance and self-service kiosks. "I really would have lost touch if I had expanded without these capabilities," White says.

School system finds new measure of security

For the Charles County School System, located 30 miles southeast of Washington, a new level of security came in the form of converged voice and data.

Charles County was one of the first school systems to embrace Cisco's Connected Learning for Schools Blueprint. It upgraded its wide area infrastructure to 2Gbps fiber, with the goal of providing voice, data, and video in every classroom, in addition to adding Wi-Fi. Its previous phone system was based on an aging PBX that severely limited simultaneous calls to and from any of its schools. The county also had no control over where and when employees could make phone calls, and therefore struggled with astronomical phone bills, according to CIO Bijaya Devkota.

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