Voice connection Featured

7:34am EDT October 21, 2004
One of the biggest challenges in a large organization is keeping the internal and external lines of communication open so information moves to those who can act on it in a timely fashion.

Hawk Corp., a manufacturer of industrial, commercial and aerospace products, was faced with the challenge of linking 16 facilities in five countries in a way that kept information moving. One part of this communication puzzle was the phone system. How do you link so many sites together in a way that can be easily administered and easy for employees to use?

The answer was Voice over Internet Protocol, a technology for routing voice over a data network. Hawk had already installed a Wide Area Network for the data at all its facilities, so why not use the same infrastructure for voice?

"We pretty much had every plant on a different phone system," says Franz Dienes, director of IT for Hawk. "A lot had old legacy phone systems. We decided to start thinking about what we could standardize and what technologies we could take advantage of."

After researching the issue, Hawk started working with Cleveland-based CBIZ to install a VoIP 3Com phone system.

"It has a lot of traditional functionality of the older systems but with VoIP capability," says Dienes. "We could install it amongst our different plants over our existing WAN. There were no extra lines needed.

"This was a natural progression as we standardized our networking and technology. It was a natural layer to put over that. We are standardizing the equipment and technology across the company."

For the employees, dialing someone at a location across the country is now as easy as dialing someone down the hall.

"Instead of a full number, all they have to dial is an extension," says Dienes. "If someone needs to transfer a call to a different location, it's a simple four-digit extension. The caller doesn't even know they have been transferred to a new location."

Calls routed over the WAN don't incur long distance toll charges, and the system administration can be handled in-house.

"There's a nice interface that is very intuitive, and it's easy to do adds and deletes with the phone system," says Dienes. "It's very easy to work with and troubleshoot. The system is very reliable."

Dienes says the planning phase is critical.

"I think planning up front is the most important thing in the implementation of a new phone system," says Dienes. "Analyze your own user needs. It shouldn't be just what an IT staffer thinks people need; you have to talk to everyone involved, then go evaluate the different options out there. Then pick a system that meets the majority of the needs you developed in your study.

"We also found out that by getting end-users involved in the analysis study, they felt they were part of the project team, so when the new system was up and running, they embraced it more because they know their feedback was taken into consideration as part of the decision-making process.

"Overall, you have to figure out how the system will help, integrate and support your business. You have to make sure it helps support your basic business needs and interfaces with your customers in a seamless manner." How to reach: Hawk Corp., www.hawkcorp.com

The VoIP leap

Routing voice calls over your data network might be a good solution if you have multiple sites, but research the options carefully before making the leap to a VoIP solution.

"The early rap about VoIP was the quality wasn't there," says Gene Roberts, president of Network Solutions for CBIZ. "The truth is, the quality was there, but people weren't doing the right things to re-engineer their network for VoIP."

Networks have to be set up to prioritize voice packets over data, so if the network starts to congest, voice will take priority.

"People think the ROI on a VoIP system comes from cutting out the long-distance costs, but it's really a lower total cost of ownership that is created," says Roberts. "A traditional phone vendor sells a service contract where they hold the knowledge on how to do moves, adds and changes. Once you are on a VoIP system, all of that is managed over a computer.

"Anybody who is thinking about replacing a phone system must be investigating VoIP. If you are purchasing a traditional phone system, that's a mistake. There are too many advantages to VoIP. Make sure you are getting true IP telephony, though. Beware of traditional phones that have added a VoIP layer."