Cloud vs. On-Premise? 2 Unified Communications Case Studies

Replacing your old phone system can be a lot like dating too soon after an ugly breakup.

Years of petty squabbles with your system over moves, adds and changes can leave you bitter and lower your expectations. That’s not even mentioning all the knock-down, drag-out fights with your carrier over service outages.

At this point, you may be thinking, “I just need something that works and that’s cheap.” But how can you compare providers if you’re so desperate that any working phone system will do?

We’ll look at two unified communications case studies that focus on the organizations’ UC deployments—one cloud, one on-premise—from the perspectives of the IT managers involved.

These unified communications case studies will help you understand how a new system can have transformative benefits for your organization that go far beyond reliability and cost-savings.

If you already know which deployment type you want, you can skip ahead by clicking on one of the following links:

Cloud: collab9 Unifies Siloed Communications at Raymond Handling Concepts

Raymond Handling Concepts is a materials handling dealership for the Raymond Corporation, a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corporation. The company has eight locations, with a corporate campus in Fremont, California. Raymond Handling is primarily a forklift dealership but also sells warehouse materials handling systems, such as lift trucks, pallet jacks and fleet management software for forklifts.

Communications are the lifeblood of a sales organization such as Raymond Handling Concepts. However, as the company’s IT manager Richard Johnston explains, the complex phone system it had in place prior to its current solution didn’t support the collaborative workflows that define the modern workplace.

“We came from a traditional PBX with disjointed email and instant messaging (IM) systems. There was no standardization in the company at all on that front—everyone just picked their own flavor and went with it,” Johnston says.

In addition to a lack of standardization, Raymond Handling’s legacy system was expensive and complex to use.

“We needed to have individual systems at each branch,” Johnston recalls. “Nothing was tied together. We had to do fancy dial patterns just to transfer calls back and forth between offices. We had traditional PRI circuits, and all the additional costs of traditional hardware-based appliances.”

This complex setup was also a nightmare to administer, because “any time we wanted to make one change, we had to do it in eight different locations,” Johnston says. “What should have taken minutes took us hours to accomplish.”

Despite these problems, Johnston’s team soldiered on with the legacy system—until issues with the company’s carriers finally forced their hand.

Matt Presson is the project manager for Johnston’s current system: a Cisco-powered, cloud-based unified communications platform, hosted by collab9. He recalls that the carrier for Johnston’s PRI service was unresponsive to issues, and would let service drop for weeks at a time at some branch offices.

According to Presson, these issues are not uncommon.

“Anyone [who has] ever dealt with these large carriers knows what I’m talking about when I say that they’re not necessarily the easiest to deal with or to get updates from,” Presson notes.

He explains that UC providers such as collab9 act as an intermediary between customers and carriers. For instance, the UC provider will deal directly with the carrier during a connectivity problem, so that the customer doesn’t have to waste time getting an answer.

Collab9 self-provisioning portal

 

The Solution: A Cloud-Based System From collab9

Collab9 deployed its cloud-based, Cisco-powered UC platform across Raymond Handling Concepts’ seven sites.

The Cisco HCS solution provided by collab9 was more reliable and cost-effective than the traditional PRI service Raymond Handling was using before (we’ll examine the cost benefits of VoIP service in more detail in the second case study below). The collab9 solution was also lightyears ahead of its old PBX system in how easy it was to administer.

When asked about managing the collab9 system, Johnston responds:

“What management? All we do is reboot a phone once in a while. Our relationship with collab9 is fantastic—they’re an email or a phone call away, and they act so fast that within minutes, we have what we need.”

Richard Johnston, IT Manager for Raymond Handling Concepts Corporation

Administrator Interface for Cisco HCS

 

The collab9 solution is also much more scalable than the complex and disunified PBX systems they had before. Presson provides an excellent example of this:

“We originally deployed seven branches for Raymond Handling Concepts across multiple states. Eventually, they required a new branch in Boise. Since they were already up and running in the cloud […], we just needed to order a new circuit for that site and add it to the current setup. We had them up and running after a couple of days.”

Such rapid scalability would not have been possible with the system that had been in place before.

Cisco Jabber Transforms Internal Communications

The centerpiece of the Cisco UC deployment at Raymond Handling Concepts is Cisco’s UC client, known as Jabber. The Jabber client had a rapid and dramatic impact on internal communications.

A UC client is an end-user application typically installed on a laptop or smartphone. Most UC clients offer features such as:

  • Instant messaging
  • A corporate directory with presence
  • Free voice calls over Wi-Fi
  • Single-identity number capabilities on smartphones
  • Voicemail access

Johnston observes that “by tying Jabber in with the mobility piece of the UC solution and the email system, we’ve drastically modified the entire way we work as a team. We took the silos out and created a flat-level sales organization.”

Johnston describes an intriguing use case for Jabber: “group blast” instant messaging.

“We send an IM, and it goes to the entire group,” he explains. “If user A isn’t available to answer the question, user B or C is usually there to pick up the ball. One instant message gets to everyone who needs to know and someone is able to respond within a couple of minutes, as opposed to trying to track down someone by leaving voicemails, waiting for callbacks, sending emails that go unanswered etc.”

Contact Directory with messaging and calling options in Cisco Jabber

 

This new form of communication only became possible after Raymond Handling moved to a standardized instant messaging client (Jabber). What’s more, Johnston says this capability has helped them significantly cut the time it takes to close sales, by allowing questions to be answered much more quickly during the sales process.

Another highly valuable functionality offered by Jabber is screen-sharing.

Johnston estimates that “the screensharing piece of Jabber has kept us from having to acquire GoToMeeting accounts for roughly 200 of our employees, which amounts to $30,000 to $40,000 a year in savings.”

Video conferencing/screen-sharing in Jabber

 

We can see that Raymond Handling Corporation was able to achieve the major goals most businesses have when replacing their phone systems:

  • Cutting service costs
  • Improving reliability
  • Easing administration

What’s more, by going with a hosted UC solution, the company was able to transform its work styles in ways that had an indirect, yet significant, impact on its bottom line.

On-Premise: ShoreTel Connects Pop-Up Offices to Hubs at Cargotec

Cargotec is a global provider of cargo handling solutions, from truck-mounted forklifts to terminal operating systems for managing port and intermodal operations. Cargotec employs nearly 11,000 people and has many subsidiaries. The company is based in Finland, but it’s represented in over 100 countries and has a network of branch and hub offices spanning multiple continents.

This complexity led the company to prioritize flexibility and ease of deployment when selecting ShoreTel (a leading vendor of UC solutions) for its telephony needs.

Janie Montgomery is the ICT Service Manager for Unified Communications and Collaboration at Cargotec. Montgomery explains that the company’s many subsidiaries were originally using a complex mix of solutions. The ShoreTel solution blossomed from a system planted at the hub of one of these subsidiaries, Hiab (a provider of load handling equipment).

User-level call handling rules in ShoreTel Director
 

Because Hiab specializes in truck-mounted equipment, it frequently opens what Montgomery calls “pop-up” offices at ports, where technicians mount lifts on vehicles and perform maintenance services.

These small pop-up offices frequently call the Hiab hub in Perrysburg, Ohio—and were ringing up lots of per-minute charges doing so. However, with business VoIP service, calls between offices on the same system are free (aside from what they’re already paying for Internet service).

ShoreTel Voice Switches Enable Least-Cost Routing

Hiab was able to achieve least-cost routing with ShoreTel thanks in part to the system’s hardware architecture. ShoreTel’s on-premise systems are based on their proprietary “voice switches”: hardware or software appliances that can shift between serving as independent phone systems and as branches of the company’s main system (generally installed at its corporate headquarters).

Richard Winslow, senior director of product management at ShoreTel, explains that “each of the orange boxes [i.e., the switches] has the intelligence of a PBX, and they work as peers on the network. When there’s connectivity, they route between each other for least-cost routing, and when there’s not connectivity, they operate in an isolated fashion.”

In other words, each switch can act either as a system unto itself or as a part of a unified, organization-wide system.

The voice-switch architecture of the system allows for easy scalability: As Hiab opens new pop-up offices, they simply deploy a switch at each location. Since the switches can act as independent systems, the pop-up offices can continue making and receiving calls even if they lose connectivity with the main system.

This is an important capability—since, as we’ll see, many of Cargotec’s offices are in areas where reliable Internet service is hard to come by.

ShoreTel’s Partner Network Assists With Global Expansion

The ShoreTel system grew incrementally as Hiab continued deploying switches at offices in North, Central and South America. ShoreTel assisted Hiab along the way by locating regional ShoreTel partner companies to assist with deployments, or local IT consultancies and cabling companies in regions where no ShoreTel partner could be found.

“In North America, we have one partner, and they cover the enter continent, whereas in EMEA or even Central or South America, it’s not that cut and dried. One partner might help us in Panama, and another might help us in Costa Rica, rather than covering all of Central America,” Montgomery explains.

If your business operates in a number of locations outside of the United States, you’ll need to make sure to find a vendor with a solid network of channel partners. Montgomery points out that ShoreTel’s partner network is one of the vendor’s primary strengths for multinational corporations that face complex networking challenges in some countries.

“There’s a learning curve for which circuits [i.e., connections for data and voice service] you use in different countries. I learned that we don’t do things the same way the same way when it comes to bringing in circuits and which protocols they run.”

A regional partner can help you work through such networking headaches.

If you’re planning to work in technologically developing regions, you may also need to adopt a hardware-based, on-premise solution, like Cargotec’s. That’s because cloud-based unified-communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) solutions rely on Internet service that isn’t always reliable in these countries, Winslow explains.

ShoreTel Director Simplifies and Unifies System Management

ShoreTel’s architecture made it particularly easy to create a unified network across Cargotec’s sites.

As Winslow observes, “Traditionally, if you had 50 locations, you would put in 50 PBXs and 50 voicemail systems and then try to network them together with very complex routing rules. It’s so hard that companies like Cargotec never did it—they just stood up individual systems with no integrated directories and no integrated voicemail.”

Winslow continues that the ShoreTel voice switches solve this problem by behaving as a single system that can be administered remotely from a centralized management console.

User Overview in ShoreTel Director

 

Even though the system now serves a complex global network of sites, the work of managing it is minimal.

“We don’t have an IT person at each site,” Montgomery explains. “We have 4 local IT techs for all of the Americas, 4 IT coordinators that are over the IT techs, and one area manager. This team oversees 45 sites in the United States alone and various deployments in Panama, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.”

According to Montgomery, managing the system isn’t a burden, even though Cargotec only has a single person in charge of the UC system.

Another aspect of the ShoreTel solution that has been important to Cargotec’s complex global activities is the ShoreTel Premises Mobility Router. It allows employees to make calls from mobile devices using Wi-Fi VoIP connections rather than cellular connections.

ShoreTel Mobility 8 iPad Interface

 

“The mobility router is very popular in EMEA,” Montgomery says. “The EU has some countries that are the size of our states. … It’s very common for some employees to go from one country to the next on a daily basis. If they go into one of our offices that has access to the mobility router, however, they don’t have to make an international call to reach home or another one of our offices.”

The mobile capabilities of the system have resulted in significant savings for Cargotec.

Montgomery sums up her experience with ShoreTel:

“It’s an uncomplicated solution for a complicated problem.”

Enabling UC and mobility features at extension level in ShoreTel Director

 

Next Steps for Choosing Your Own System

In these two UC case studies, you’ve seen how businesses can get benefits from their phone systems beyond reliability and cost-savings. Now, maybe you’re ready to begin healing from your experiences with your old system.

If you’re still trying to decide what functionality you need from your new UC solution, you can read our report on UC features that offer the most significant productivity gains.

Our site also offers a collection of user reviews of both cloud-based systems and on-premise solutions to help you begin building your short list.

If you’re ready to find providers suited to the scale and budget of your business, call one of our Advisors at (855) 998-8505: In a free phone consultation, they’ll give you the names of vendors that meet your needs, as well as specific details on pricing.

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