New generation of Internet telephone systems can yield big business savings
Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business
September 15-21, 2009 issue #1038
High Tech Office column
With revenue up 75% over
last year, Vancouver-based Vision Critical seems to have missed the
recession. But Vision Critical, which describes itself as “an
interactive online research company,” has found that success can strain
With offices in New York, Paris, Sydney
and elsewhere, the company’s flexibility was being constrained by its
phone system. According to Shawn Tagseth, who’s in charge of Vision
Critical’s information technology, reorganization or adding employees
meant calling in the phone company to reconfigure the phone system.
researching alternatives, Vision Critical worked with network
consultant KOIOS Systems to install a Cisco unified communications
network. It replaced the hard-wired telephone system with one built
around Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. Also replaced at
the same time: a wide area network.
Though Cisco has a
reputation as maker of products for large enterprises, Tagseth suggests
that it also proved a good fit for a much smaller company. A plus was
that it’s easy to find technical staff with experience working with
For many, VoIP’s initial attraction has been the
promise of saving money on long-distance charges. Even though Vision
Critical has a network of international offices, this wasn’t a big
issue for the company. Instead, the big benefit has been the
flexibility of being able to make additions and changes to the phone
network in-house. Tagseth said Vision Critical moved around 70% of its
Vancouver employees over a recent weekend, something that would have
previously been impossible.
The company does expect savings from
the new system, however, and is predicting a return on investment over
two and a half years.
Located in sight of BC Place stadium,
Vision Critical’s Vancouver office will be in a pedestrian-only zone
during the 2010 Winter Games, so access to the office will be limited.
However, the company’s new software-based phone system will enable
employees to take their work phone number and network access home with
them, which will allow them to seamlessly conduct business from home or
other locations for that period.
While Vision Critical’s move to
Cisco’s unified communications network was the company’s first taste of
Internet-based telephone systems, local Mac retailer MacStation has
been something of a VoIP pioneer.
With Vancouver, Burnaby and
Abbotsford locations, MacStation had replaced its hard-wired phone
system with a software-based system back in 2001 using open-source
According to IT director Aaron Attwaters, that
system provided many benefits: as employees moved between locations,
their phone extension and voice mail moved with them. Flat-rate
long-distance charges and easier administration were other benefits.
as the company grew, it found that its first-generation VoIP system did
not scale effectively. As users were added, the system became
increasingly unstable, needing frequently to be wiped and restarted.
Eventually, Attwaters was backing up and restarting the system daily.
Moreover, it required a large amount of network bandwidth. High costs
for Internet bandwidth were outweighing initial cost savings.
Vision Critical, MacStation moved to the Cisco platform. Working with
B.C. network integrator Boardwalk Communications, it moved from the old
system last December. According to Attwater, the transition between
systems went smoothly and there have been minimal problems since.
A big plus, according to Attwater: as a well-known brand, there’s lots of information online about working with Cisco products.
And that’s a good thing.
notes that while Cisco’s website is full of information, it’s mostly
“written by engineers for engineers”; the wealth of information
available from other sources online is often easier to understand.
new system requires a third of the network bandwidth of the Asterix
system, which has resulted in immediate cost savings without
sacrificing voice quality. And regardless of location, all MacStation
employees are connected to one big network. That makes it easy to add
staff. A new store would simply be another node in the network.
has grown up. Second-generation products like Cisco’s unified
communications network are providing the flexibility that small and
mid-sized businesses need. •