Phone net Featured

1:17pm EDT September 22, 2003
When Trek Diagnostic Systems was looking to move two years ago, Mike Burke, president and CEO, decided it was time to look for a new phone system as well.

When the concept of using the Internet to handle long distance calls was raised, Burke was intrigued.

"At the time, we weren't familiar with people that had them," says Burke. "We didn't know if we would be pioneering a technology or if they were mainstream. There were some good stories and some horror stories. We felt there was some risk, but we also felt we had a strong management team that could manage the process pretty well."

Before changing systems, the company was paying 4 cents a minute. It now pays 1.99 cents a minute.

"The impact has been tremendous," says Burke. "We got our entire sales, service, manufacturing and headquarters operations on one phone system while saving better than $75,000."

The changeover didn't require much investment, either.

"The only real requirement you have to have, aside from a VOIP switch, is a solid network," says Burke. "We upgraded some of our servers to the latest, greatest thing. The key is prioritizing voice packets over data packets on the network. People streaming radio stations through their computers will interfere with it even though it's not supposed to. We did have to clean up our personal usage of the network."

This system is not the same as the home systems that route your calls over an Internet connection. Once someone at Trek places a call outside the company, the call travels over a dedicated T1 line to a phone carrier.

"We don't have interference issues or Internet problems to think about," says Burke. "Our calls go directly to a carrier. We are not going through our local phone company except for local calls and overflow."

The company also saved money when preparing its new building.

"We only wired the new building for the network, not for analog or digital phones," says Burke. "That saved us $15,000 in moving costs."

The system is simple to use. Essentially, the phone is plugged into the network, and the computer is plugged into the phone.

"The side benefit is since we are integrating the phone into the computer, we can use Microsoft Outlook with the phone," says Burke. "Also, each phone has its own IP address, so you can take the phone and plug it into the Internet anywhere. Our network will recognize it as long as it is on a high-speed connection."

Burke can take his phone home and plug it into a high-speed Internet connection and have his calls routed there. Wherever the phone is, that's where the calls go.

"Our system has all the features and benefits of a traditional phone system, too," says Burke.

Caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding and routing groups are all available.

Administration is handled through a computer screen. Burke can set up defaults such as the number of rings until a call goes to voicemail without the help of a system administrator.

"It's much simpler than the old ways," says Burke. "But you definitely want a good service provider, because when there is a problem, the T1, network and phone system people will all be pointing the finger at each other."

Burke also recommends canceling your traditional services well in advance and watching your bills closely.

"When you make a major change, some companies will continue to bill you regardless," says Burke. "You have to really watch them."

How to reach: Trek Diagnostic Systems, (216) 523-9299


Get carded

Mike Burke, president and CEO of Trek Diagnostic Systems, wanted to find a good deal on long distance calling cards for his employees who travel.

He found the best deal at an unlikely place.

"I kept going out for quotes and I couldn't believe the best I could get was 30 cents a minute for a credit card phone card," says Burke. "I saw that Sam's Club had a calling card for 3.5 cents a minute at the time, so I got one and tried it out. It works tremendously. The cost is all-inclusive. I finally said enough is enough and went out and bought 30 of them."

The cards, branded by AT&T, have dropped to 2.99 cents per minute. Burke says the cost savings and ease of use have made them a great value.

"My finance people loved the detailed bills from the old way to see who was calling who, but it was more data than we ever utilized," says Burke. "Even if there is a little bit of cheating, saving 90 percent is so incredible, it's still worth it. We canceled all of our major phone credit cards."

When making a call, the user is told how many minutes are left and receives an offer to add more minutes at the original rate.

"We have had no issues of any substance since using them," says Burke.