VoIP Deployment Has VAR Smelling Like Roses

CASE STUDY:  Reseller ACP installs VoIP for major floral distributor

Florexpo is one of the largest fresh-cut flower suppliers for western U.S. retail florists, producing more than 600 million stems annually. That’s a lot of roses.

As Florexpo prepared to move its Carlsbad, Calif. headquarters to a new building, the company decided to replace its aging PBX system. For expert advice, Florexpo connected with Advanced Call Processing (ACP), a Carlsbad-based VAR and telecommunications solutions provider.

First Contact

Sometimes new business leads come in unusual ways, and David Watson of ACP credits his wife with making the introduction. “She had a casual conversation with a friend at a social gathering, and it turned out the friend worked at Florexpo. They somehow got onto the topic of PBXs,” says Watson. Shortly thereafter, ACP was able to schedule a visit to Florexpo.

Just a Phone Call Away

The floral distribution market is extremely competitive, and demanding customers find alternative sources of flowers just a phone call away.

Upon meeting with Florexpo, ACP learned that the floral distributor’s facilities are spread out across multiple locations. Employees work in warehouse-size coolers as large as two football fields, making it a challenge to reach staff members while they work in the coolers. With employees moving around all the time, valuable time and potential sales could be lost while trying to track down an employee about a quote, status of an order to calm an anxious customer on the other end of a call.

“Before we had the Sphere system, it could be very frustrating to locate people in other facilities,” says David Briggs, General Manager of Florexpo’s Kendal North business unit located in Portland, Ore.

Florexpo was looking for an effective way to link its sales staff and operational personnel more closely with each other as well as with its customers. It needed to do this in order to speed up customer quotes and bring in more sales orders each day. In evaluating this business challenge, ACP realized that Florexpo needed more than just a new phone system — it needed to accelerate its business by getting its people more connected.

ACP conducted a comprehensive needs assessment with Florexpo. It determined that one of the company’s major planning considerations was the multicity footprint of Florexpo, which has facilities in Portland, Ore., and Carlsbad and Monterey Bay in California. Florexpo already had a good computer network in place, including a WAN that connected the offices via dedicated T1 lines and VPNs.

Florexpo outsources its network administration to The Network Company of California (TNCC), so the network is well-maintained. In fact, ACP found that Florexpo’s network was already robust enough to support an advanced IP telephony solution with unified communications features including phone, e-mail, IM and other real-time collaboration technologies at its three sites.

Any solution ACP recommended would have to support all the facilities equally well. It would also have to be cost-effective, easy to manage, offer all the features Florexpo required, and be flexible and scalable enough to support their future growth without re-investing in a larger system.

ACP concluded that an open, software-based IP PBX would best fit Florexpo’s needs. It would leverage the existing infrastructure already in place, provide Florexpo with flexibility and choice, and avoid having to install expensive, proprietary hardware.

Living in the Presence

ACP proposed that Florexpo deploy Sphere Communications’ Sphericall IP PBX as an enterprise-class application on the existing data network. The Sphericall IP PBX includes a comprehensive unified communications suite and can be easily managed from any location.

ACP conducted a live demonstration at Florexpo to show the advanced capabilities of the Sphericall Desktop software, being sure to include TNCC so the outsourced administrators’ questions were answered as well. Some of the features ACP highlighted in the demo included an online “smart directory” showing presence for each user, point-and-click call management, instant messaging, unified e-mail and voice mail messaging, and desktop video conferencing.

ACP also demonstrated the easy-to-use personal call forwarding profiles that enable important calls to be managed regardless of an employee’s location or availability. Florexpo’s management especially liked the ability to view the presence status of each employee — such as “on the phone” or “in a meeting” — as well as the multiple options available for employees to communicate with each other, all within one system. The Florexpo team was also impressed with the unified dialing plan across all locations, which works with one-click dialing from the desktop phonebook.

Accelerating the Learning Curve

Florexpo was still four months from moving into its new building when ACP first installed the Sphere software on a Windows-based server in the Carlsbad facility. For the time being, ACP retained Florexpo’s old PBX phone system as well.

During the initial phase, all users had two phones on their desks. Employees would call each other in-house on the Sphere system taking advantage of the presence and instant messaging features to increase productivity. Meanwhile, they would receive and make trunk calls on the old PBX.

This dual approach on the front end actually helped accelerate the learning curve for both administrators and employees alike. In fact, everyone found the new system so easy to use that ACP was asked to move the trunks over from the old system to the new system a month ahead of schedule. From then on, all calls went through the Sphere system.

When the new building was preparing to open, Florexpo decided that it still needed a few phones there. While this wasn’t part of the original strategy, TNCC was able to easily run a fiber-optic cable to the new building. ACP then deployed IP phones from the Sphere system, which actually put the project ahead of schedule.

By the time moving day came, much of the Sphere system for the new facility was already tested and working, so the team simply moved the servers to the new location. This stepped deployment eased the pressure on administrators and enabled ACP to test and train users at a comfortable pace.

Watson of ACP says, “The stepped approach wasn’t as much about risk management; it simply evolved through day-to-day decisions.” For example, when Florexpo needed to get a phone installed at the new building, ACP could assess the unique situation at hand and choose the most efficient alternative. “With the Sphere system, it was easy, which really demonstrates the flexibility of a software-based IP PBX,” continues Watson. The end result: an orderly, low-risk migration to a highly reliable and easy to-use IP telephony system.

Customizing Business Rules

To take full advantage of the system’s capabilities, Florexpo management asks employees to use all of the unified communications features. These include presence and instant messaging, desktop video, and unified e-mail and voice mail messaging, as well as personal call-forwarding profiles. Call-forwarding profiles allow users to easily create call management rules based on time-of-day, presence state and even caller ID. This enables Florexpo employees to always manage the phone calls that are important to their business.

Down on the Farm

The only challenge out of the ordinary was the difficulty in obtaining high-quality digital voice and data circuits in rural farming communities, such as on the outskirts of Monterey Bay, one of Florexpo’s locations. The infrastructure isn’t as strong in these farming communities and local carriers aren’t always proactive about upgrading this infrastructure. ACP worked with SBC, the local data carrier, to get the service upgraded, but this is typically only an issue in rural areas.

Support and Success

Florexpo now has 250 Sphere users spread across three sites. Soon, the Monterey Bay facility will move to a new building, without requiring any phone company assistance to migrate the phone system. The phone system simply moves right along with the computer network. ACP credits a lot of the success to the support of the outsourced network administrators at TNCC. “Relationships with network administrators are an important key to success,” says Watson. “There has to be communication and cooperation from the network team. This was a big help at Florexpo.”

Now responsibility for the phone system resides in the Finance department of Florexpo. Florexpo administrators manage day-to-day activities such as moves, additions or changes. ACP has a maintenance contract to provide support for anything more complex. Most importantly, Florexpo has brought its employees and customers closer together through a comprehensive IP communications system, and is maintaining its competitive advantage as the company continues to extend its fresh-cut flower supply business across the western United States.

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