He then went about configuring Asterisk to emulate features of the Avaya system that were essential such as routing of calls by auto attendants and setting up voicemail.
In purchasing Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunks from Sprint to replace traditional AT&T T-1s, individual lines and Centrex services that made up the old phone network, Michigan CAT discovered bandwidth was over-provisioned. By replacing the AT&T connections with equivalent sized SIP trunks, the company is saving 40% right off the bat because SIP trunks cost less.
But he could get an additional 5% to 10% savings once the links are sized appropriately for each site, McCrea says. Some of the company's phone traffic is seasonal, so tuning the SIP trunk contracts to allow bursting may further savings, he says.
The total hardware cost of the Asterisk project came to $150,000, which includes phones, network upgrades, servers, trunk cards and line cards. Even with Laffey's salary tacked on, McCrae projects an 18-month return on investment based on reduced costs.
Beyond savings, Asterisk is already providing richer features than the aging Avaya system it replaced. Call records are more detailed, making it possible to keep track of how many calls go unanswered for a certain period and then to design routing schemes to distribute calls to different sites if the wait is too long. "The goal is to make everybody more efficient and diminish call waiting times," he says.
That monitoring will also let him know if a site's phones go down, and he's arranged with Sprint to automatically switch calls to other sites when they do. If the problem is with the Asterisk server, the company has preconfigured standbys that can be driven to the downed site to get it back online.
This is a step up from the old system where outages generally resulted in finger pointing between AT&T and Avaya for half a day. Someone had to call to have inbound calls to the downed site rerouted to company headquarters in Novi, Mich. "This gives us a much better plan than we had," McCrea says.
Receptionist workstations display more information about calls than was available via Avaya receptionist consoles, and the new system distributes visual voicemail as e-mail notifications with audio attachments.
Down the road, the company plans to integrate the phone system with its ERP system. That will give contact center agents screen pops of customer histories as calls come in and enable the routing of calls to the same agents that customers talked to the last time, he says.
At the moment, Laffey is an indispensible cog in Michigan CAT's telephony machine, but over time it will cross-train other IT staffers so they can step in when Laffey's not around, McCrae says. Already, some staffers have components of his skills, he says. Alternatively, the company could hire a third party to fill in if the need arises, he says.