By Debbie Jo Severin
Chief Marketing Officer
When contractors call Irving Materials (IMI) these days, they’ll notice a few things have changed. For example, the provider of concrete, asphalt and aggregates now uses a “find-me, follow-me” business phone service feature that automatically routes calls to employees’ mobile phones when they don’t answer their desk phone. That minimizes phone tag.
And while the service is hunting, they’ll also now hear promos. For example, during the winter, they might get a promo for an admixture that enables concrete pours in frigid weather.
“The sky’s the limit on some of this,” says Jerry Howard, IMI vice president of IT. “Somebody is on hold, and they hear something, and it clicks: ‘I didn’t know they did that.’ It’s an opportunity you didn’t know you had missed before. That’s a huge benefit.”
IMI, an AGC member in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee, added those two features as part of migrating its phone system to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony services. The move was no small task: IMI has about 150 facilities scattered across Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
By consolidating nearly all of its business phone services, IMI eliminated the chore of working with more than 30 local exchange carriers (LECs). “Some are household names, such as Verizon and AT&T, but others are ones that nobody outside of that county has heard of,” Howard says.
Many IMI plants are in small towns that, until recently, had only dial-up Internet access. As broadband became available at more and more plants, VoIP became a viable alternative to traditional telephony – and just in time, too.
“Like a lot of other companies, because of the economic downturn, we were looking to trim costs,” Howard says. “At the end of the day, it came down to the dollars. We anticipate getting a 60 percent reduction in cost.”
No More Long Distance and Order Disputes
IMI is using a type of product known in the telecom world as unified communications (UC) for the way it combines services such as voice, video calling, Web conferencing and Internet fax. Much of the savings comes from the way that VoIP eliminates long-distance charges, which quickly add up for a company as geographically dispersed as IMI.
“The elimination of LD is a huge benefit,” Howard says.
Switching to VoIP and UC also eliminated another downside of widely scattered facilities: having to remember and dial a 10-digit number to reach a colleague at another plant. Now every employee has a five-digit extension instead, making it easier and faster to connect.
IMI also added automatic recording of all calls, an option that’s possible because all of the states where IMI does business have one-party-consent laws. Call recording provides IMI with a way to resolve disputes such as whether an order was taken or given correctly.
“In the past, we just ate it,” Howard says. “It was the-customer-is-always-right scenario.”
The system is cloud-based, meaning the unified communications services are delivered to customers over the public Internet. Many enterprises are migrating to cloud-based UC partly because they don’t want the cost of buying and maintaining a PBX. A cloud-based solution also enables greater business continuity when there’s a disaster because the UC infrastructure is redundant across geographically dispersed sites, so the enterprise’s communications don’t all depend on a single facility.
When choosing a telecom provider, the issue of reliability also includes its ability to support a major company and all of its unique requirements. Howard recommends that companies look at whether a prospective telecom provider already has customers with comparable numbers of lines.
“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t the largest conversion that they’ve ever done,” Howard says. “We wanted to feel like they had a pretty good handle on the project management of this because we have about 150 locations.”
Howard also recommends that companies scrutinize the broadband services available at each of their facilities. One example is uplink and downlink speeds, which affect the number of simultaneous calls that each facility can comfortably handle over VoIP.
“Bandwidth is a function of how many phones you’ve got there and how many concurrent phone calls you think you’re going to be taking,” Howard says. “At one of our plants, the lowest grade DSL would be suitable for probably up to five connections at the same time.”
Latency is another important metric because it directly affects VoIP call quality.
“It has to be 100 milliseconds or less,” Howard says. “The lower, the better. And it’s got to be consistent.”
One tip is to test a VoIP solution at each facility for several days or longer. That’s the best way to see if the broadband service has consistent latency or whether it fluctuates to the point that call quality will be unpredictable.
IMI tested third- and fourth-generation (3G and 4G) cellular technologies at some locations that didn’t have access to wired broadband. “We’ve found that 3G isn’t suitable, but 4G is,” Howard says. “3G technology has the latency.”
In March, IMI finished migrating to its new system at most of its facilities, which include five regional headquarters and about 20 plant-office combinations, plus roughly 125 plants staffed by only one or two people each. “We’ve been very pleased with them,” says Howard.
Debbie Jo Severin is the chief marketing officer for 8×8, a San-Jose, Calif. based provider of Voice over Internet Protocol telephony systems.