Monday, 31 October 2011 21:01

Making "above and beyond" the norm

Call One is one of the nation's largest providers of voice, data, and Internet services and systems.

Smart Business spoke to Ken Moss, Director of Data Operations at Call One, about how the organization has overcome challenges to become an innovative leader in its region and industry.

Give us an example of a business challenge your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

The biggest challenge that Call One Data Operations has faced is the growing trend of enterprise organizations choosing inexpensive small-office/home-office (SOHO) IP solutions for their business. In years past, telecom providers enjoyed success selling premium services such as internet DS1 lines to businesses, thus reaping the benefits of larger revenues. Not only have wholesale bandwidth prices fallen, but emerging products such as DSL and cable modems that are economically price positioned have shifted the landscape to be ultra-competitive.

Call One has and continues to overcome this challenge through providing value added services that the SOHO IP products cannot offer. Free bandwidth metrics, reporting, and evaluations gathered though SNMP traps that DS1 can provide. Complimentary proactive notifications on service outages — where we contact the end user notifying that they are down before they even notice. Increasing that “white glove” type of approach based on what the technology can provide. We’re constantly looking for new ways to increase the value add.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

The great thing about Call One is that we’re not limited in how we can approach management issues. I personally like to tackle things with an analytical mindset — I’m a big metrics guy. But if something is not working for me or my teams, we jettison it and identify new and better ways. We’re not saddled with the “this is how things have been done for 10 years” mindset.

We’re firm believers in testing and being hands-on while at the same time employing an open door, customer centric approach — I call it the client/technology partnership. Being a technology company, we find all sorts of interesting challenges that present themselves — advanced routing issues, local area network issues, etc. Because we strive for that client/technology partnership, let’s solve issues together with our clients. Innovation through flexibility in both internal and external customer facing operations is what drives a lot of what we do. This has long been a critical component to our success.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned and how have you applied it?

The lesson of always being positive. It sounds cliché, I know. But over my career I’ve found that successful negotiation of most issues boil down to attitude and approach. Maintaining a positive attitude and approach in our dealings does make a difference. Letting negativity bleed unto oneself brings bunches of problems in a hurry. Positivity — that “can do” attitude and approach to not only operational issues, but relationships as well. I strive to ensure that my teams maintain that positive attitude, and they know that’s a pet peeve of mine. You could be the best and brightest engineer out there — but within my teams we won’t tolerate negativity.

How does your organization make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

Call One has had an internal Give Back Committee for years now that has coordinated fundraising efforts for various charities and community not-for-profit organizations. This year, for instance, our targeted fundraising organization is Aunt Martha’s Youth Service and Health Center. We consistently hold raffles, contests, bake sales, etc. with the proceeds going to Aunt Martha’s. We set fundraising goals and achieve them. It certainly makes us all feel good knowing that we’re helping contribute to those in need locally.

The effect we have on the regional economy is a little different — Call One is first and foremost a Chicagoland telecom company.  We have a wide range of different local affinity groups — including municipalities, school districts, and auto dealers, amongst many others. We can provide incentives for these groups to give them a competitive advantage in their marketplaces. Call One wants to see other Chicagoland businesses succeed. Through our affinity group program, I believe we are helping do just that.

How have you added “value” to the products and services you provide to customers and clients?

Funny — I would encourage everyone to go to www.callone.com and read a blog article that I authored and posted on August of 2011 titled “Discover Your Hidden Value Proposition.” In a nutshell, it always boils down to providing that premium customer experience that cannot be matched by your competitors. Know your client, stay ahead of the game, and ease their pains. Telecommunications is a commodity. Anything commoditized must be differentiated with value — this is a big one for me.

What is your philosophy on going “above and beyond” for customer service?

My philosophy about “above and beyond” is that it’s unfortunate that it’s still referred to as “above and beyond.” Going the extra mile is what provides that value proposition, that foundation for success to ensure longevity and sustained growth. It’s not “above and beyond" — it should be the “norm.”

Ken Moss, Director of Data Operations at Call One, has worked for Call One in Chicago, Illlinois, since 2002. He holds an MBA from Benedictine University and is a member of Sigma Beta Delta Business Honors Society. Reach him at kmoss@callone.com. Also, feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.

Published in Chicago

Interested in learning why your company’s mobility strategy is failing?

Join Smart Business and Chris Surdenik, president of Call One, at 1 p.m. CDT on September 29th for an in-depth look at mobility in this digital age. Register today!

Surdenik started at Call One in 1998 at the recommendation of Ameritech. He had previously been a provisioning supervisor at USN Communications, where he was responsible for training and administration of the provisioning department.

He knew there was a better way to tackle telecommunications needs.

Now, 13 years later, Surdenik has proven Ameritech’s recommendation – and his decision – to be prescient. Call One has seen substantial growth, most recently being named to Crain’s Fifty-Fastest Growing Companies in Chicago and Inc. Magazine’s 500 5000 list.

Earlier this year, Smart Business sat down with Surdenik to discuss how he tackles business challenges. You can read the interview here.

The bottom line is that it's becoming an ever increasingly mobile world. And for business, that means you're conducting transactions on the go, holding meetings on the road -- and from remote locales -- and accessing your data from anywhere at any time.

So what does mobility mean, and how can you best take advantage of what's out there?

At this Webinar, we’ll tackle such topics as:

* Hardware: Smart phones, wireless devices and creating transparency in business communications.

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* Integrated Communications: How mobility plays an important role in a fully conceptualized integrated communications plan.

Register today as this is one Webinar you don't want to miss.

Published in National

Smart Business spoke to Ken Moss, Director of Data Operations at Call One, about leveraging Service Level Agreements to mitigate downtime and maximize your business’s potential.

The Service Level Agreement (SLA) is the defining document that outlines how an access line will perform. In some cases, the SLA will define what recourse the customer has when a line is underperforming, or suffers from recurring issues and outages. The SLA has historically been an important variable for companies when they select different types of access lines. Access lines support critical corporate communications and can act as the lifeblood of a company. As the telecommunications industry continues to evolve with bigger bandwidth products, the SLA has become an even more important component to consider.

SLAs – What they are, what they are not

The SLA is casually understood by many to be a realistic expectation of what happens should service fail due to network outages or line cuts. In most instances, nothing could be further from the truth. Mean time to restore (MTTR) is the true statement that defines customer expectations should an outage occur. SLA normally defines the time it takes to have an engineer actually pick up the issue and work toward resolution. Over the years, the two terms SLA and MTTR have become interchangeable, and the lines have become blurred.

The meat and potatoes of the modern SLA revolves more around network performance with defined categories of uptime, network latency and packet loss, and the VoIP sensitive category of “jitter.” These factors are critical — especially with real-time sensitive applications such as voice and video.

Different SLAs for different product sets

All SLAs are not created equal. Carriers have the luxury to define the SLA as they see fit. Be aware that SLAs are normally defined and written from the “POP” or Carrier Network perspective. Frequently, these SLAs don’t account for last mile connectivity elements (or the element that is usually of most importance to an end user of service). Last mile connectivity is, more often than not, the element that fails, causing downtime — which is a critical component in the grand scheme of things.

In some cases, such as big bandwidth Ethernet over Copper (EoCu) solutions, carriers will frequently market network SLAs that exclude local access circuits. Knowing that SLA and MTTR are frequently and ambiguously interchangeable, understand the technology you are purchasing before your enterprise services depend on them, not after. Ask questions about the underlying last mile transport from your service provider. Get that component’s SLA. You might be surprised to find out that sometimes it does not even have one.

Selection of service based on SLA

Service levels are more encompassing that ever before. As VoIP becomes mainstream, factors such as latency and jitter are now even more important considerations. Be mindful of what expectations are outlined based on requirements from hosted VoIP providers. Develop a clear understanding of how latency and jitter can be affected by bandwidth utilization. Know your bandwidth requirements going into the conversations about new network connectivity, not at the tail end only after the solution is deployed.

Another component to consider is equipment. Is your Telco providing routers, switches or the VoIP PBX? Are they covered in an SLA? Gather all information during the proposal process to accurately compare different providers in their service offerings.

DS1 and above

Clearly the legacy Telco provided DS1 on up (including NxDS1, DS3 and native Ethernet offerings such as fiber) bring the historically strongest combination of SLA expectations along with MTTR. While competing services such as coaxial cable modem, next generation xDSLs, EoCu, or fixed wireless offer better bandwidth bang for the buck, consider all possibilities of what could happen during an outage. As these newer products grow towards maturity, their SLAs and MTTRs will continue to evolve to be more competitive.

Best of both worlds

So what is a network admin to do? Applications are getting more bandwidth hungry by the day. Inexpensive big bandwidth options such xDSL, EoCu and cable modems can work well combined with legacy SLA-driven technologies such as DS1. Why not consider the best of both worlds? Load balance the inexpensive big bandwidth product with the DS1 and enjoy the benefits of both technologies while not sacrificing bandwidth for SLA. As bandwidth prices continue to get more aggressive in the marketplace, this becomes a viable solution for small to medium-sized businesses.

Understand the components at play; take time to learn their SLAs and MTTRs. Weigh all the factors against the importance of maximizing uptime for today’s critical enterprise systems. In today’s competitive environment, downtime equals lost revenue. Leverage the SLA and MTTR to maximize results.

Ken Moss, Director of Data Operations at Call One, has worked for Call One in Chicago, Illlinois, since 2002. He holds an MBA from Benedictine University and is a member of Sigma Beta Delta Business Honors Society. Reach him at kmoss@callone.com. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.

Published in Chicago