How to save thousands of dollars with voice-over-IP

Aramark Uniform Services had a problem. The company wanted to upgrade its voice capabilities, but the sheer number of locations made that a messy and expensive proposition.

The Burbank, Calif., company provides uniform sales, rentals, manufacturing and cleaning for many industries, from airline ground crews to overnight delivery truck drivers and major league ballpark peanut vendors.

Aramark has more than 28 facilities plants and 200 offices nationwide. Keeping the voice networks at each site running efficiently and adding new features was a challenge, says Ash Patel, Aramark's director of IT infrastructure.

"Basically, 99% of our sites don't have voice mail or a PBX," Patel says. This caused problems such as mishandled orders and lost customer service calls, he adds.

Patel has a Lucent (now Avaya) Definity PBX and voice mail system in Aramark's main office in Burbank to support 300 users. The PBX is cost-effective for a large corporate office, but Patel says he needed the same advanced capabilities of his PBX in each of Aramark's 28 uniform manufacturing, laundry and distribution facilities throughout the country. The cost of a PBX in each site would have been too great, he says.

"We would have had to spend a separate $30,000 [to upgrade each Definity] just for voice mail," in the remote sites, he says. "The [Definity PBX] is $100,000. We can't put that in every site."

Instead, Patel went with the $15,180 InstantOffice 5500 from Vertical Networks. The InstantOffice product is a Windows NT device that supports voice mail and automated attendant, and can compile data on customer service calls. The device can act as a router, support up to 84 phone and data connections, and have T-1 and ISDN ports for connecting to a WAN.

In addition to getting the customer service phone systems in shape at the remote offices, the devices also save the firm money on long-distance phone charges for intracompany calls.

"Our monthly long-distance bill at Aramark [was] about $140,000," before using the InstantOffice to tie the remote offices together with T-1 lines and IP voice, Patel says. "I see at least a 40% savings every month on long-distance charges alone."

The company saves even more by combining separate voice and data T-1 lines at each site into one line from AT&T, Patel adds.

"Right now we're paying around $80,000 a month for both [voice and data] frame circuits. We'll save about another $20,000-plus a month once they're combined," at every site, he says.

The InstantOffice 5500s Patel installed also give Aramark better control over each remote site. This includes collecting data on service calls to make the sites more customer-friendly, as well as remote management of the Vertical Networks devices.

"There was no way for [remote sites] to generate reports to find out how often their customer service people were on the phone, for how long, or how many calls were being abandoned," Patel says. "Now that they have that information, they can use it to make better use of their resources."

The InstantOffice's IP-based Web management feature is also useful, he adds.

"There is no technical staff at any [remote] sites," Patel says. "The only technical group I have is in Burbank. Since the system runs on Windowws NT and it's IP-based, we can manage it from here."

Patel says he plans to continue rolling out InstantOffice 5500s and the smaller, 33-user InstantOffice 3500 model, in more Aramark sales service offices nationwide over the next year.

This story, "How to save thousands of dollars with voice-over-IP" was originally published by Network World.

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