VoIP Case Study: The JCF Story

As shared by Kevin Ryan and Chuck Boyce

The Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has become a force that must be reckoned with for each call center owner, manager, and IT professional. The technology has moved past the early adopters stage and must be integrated into the long-term strategic plan. For early adopters, there were bigger risks, many trials, and some nice rewards.

JCF Communications had been serving customers in the Austin, Texas area since 1979. When the company was acquired, the new owner was faced with the challenge to accelerate the growth of the business. The company quickly discovered that it would be nearly impossible to expand and meet their growth targets within the local market with their limited budgets. After some initial research, JCF decided that the path of most certain success would be to expand into other markets. They decided they would look for acquisition and merger candidates within the state.

With the first two deals lined up, the next question was how to integrate these sites into the business to achieve the best possible returns. They decided to consolidate all the traffic onto a single, centralized Amtelco Infinity switch and a set of supporting servers. Further research led the team to select VoIP to route the callers to the switch and provide a talk path for the agents located in the remote offices. Two years later, the team can share valuable lessons learned.

Don’t go into the woods without a guide! VoIP is highly specialized and requires a knowledgeable team to assist with the design and deployment of the network. Combining voice and data on the same physical network opens up new concerns for single points of failure. Routing and prioritizing the traffic flow is critical to ensure that the network is tuned to provide an acceptable level of service for the data with the highest possible voice quality.

JCF Communications selected Chuck Boyce from Brandywine Technology to supplement the in-house teams’ knowledge. The Brandywine Technology team was able to plug in the right expert for each stage of the process, from network engineering, VoIP configuration, telecommunication analysis, and carrier selection. They assisted with selecting the equipment platform and managed the sourcing and setup of the VoIP equipment. Once the systems were in place, resources from both companies carried out an extensive testing protocol to test the network and all of the related components. The team spent nearly six weeks of design and testing to integrate the first node on the network.

Spend the money and install redundancy: To work within the budget constraints certain redundancy were not immediately installed, but were planned for later deployments. On occasion, some of those decisions turned out to be costly. Kevin Ryan describes JCF’s experience, “We tried to save money and it came back to bite us. You should have a backup component in the rack for every item you’ve installed.

“Additionally, order a secondary data circuit. This does not need to be a full pipe, however; we use a business-grade cable modem. The network suppliers like to pull maintenance on these circuits in the middle of the night. They don’t imagine it will cause an inconvenience at one a.m.  After all, who is going to care if the circuit goes down for a few hours from one to three a.m.? Therefore, you simply switch over to your backup circuit. It will not give you the same quality, but at one in the morning you don’t have much call traffic or bandwidth utilization.”

Make sure with work with vendors that can support you 24/7: It is important that the suppliers and companies you choose to partner with will be available to support your business on a 24/7 basis. Be sure to detail and negotiate in advance what your expectations are for shipping replacement equipment and response times.

Do not perform any software upgrades without first contacting your supplier: One bad upgrade, performed in the middle of the night, can have a large and widespread ripple effect. Even if everything initially looks okay, you should plan on a “burn-in” period for rolling out changes to your entire network. Things that appear to be working at two a.m. with perfect test calls can look much different when eight a.m. rolls around and the call volume increases dramatically. After a particularly grueling experience, Kevin adds, “You would think that after twenty years on the manufacturing side I would know this!  Live and learn.”

Secure the host location: When a call center decides to move to a centralized infrastructure, it becomes vital to secure the host equipment room with the appropriate UPS, generator, climate control, redundant components, and spares. This need prompted JCF to seek out a collocation facility to house their growing data center when they outgrew their current equipment room. Compared to the cost to upgrade all of the components required to support their growth plans, a managed collocation facility in their carrier’s central office made the best sense. This will reduce the amount of capital investment required, and provide a potential tax benefit by moving this to an operating cost.

Networking is the fast track to growth: Since the initial network was put into place, two additional sites have been brought online, and the team now has a playbook on how to manage the addition of a new location. Each of the lessons learned have become integrated into their procedures. They strive to do each one better, faster, and more efficiently than the previous site.

JCF has experienced a very positive impact on their business by integrating a VoIP networking strategy into their business plan. They report that for a comparatively nominal cost they have been able to quadruple the size of their operation while centralizing the core management team and technology infrastructure.

Kevin Ryan is the owner of JCF Communications; he may be reached at 512-458-5321 or kryan@jcfcommunications.com.

[From Connection Magazine November 2007]

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