When the aveRage WORKER thinks of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), he pictures a fellow using his PC to save on long distance calls. While it is a fair example, it is one small facet of the benefits that VoIP can offer. Sure, IP telephony can save long-distance money. But the real advantages

of VoIP are in

the areas of efficiency (putting voice and data on the same infrastructure makes networks easier to manage) and productivity (companies who put voice and data on the same network can begin using new applications that take advantage of the IP network).

Take, for example, Richardson Partners Financial Ltd., an independent wealth management firm with seven offices in Canada, 300 employees and $3 billion in assets. The firm began its development work on voice-over-IP in mid-2003 and went live that fall. The benefits were almost immediate, says Stan Eng, chief information officer.

According to Eng, RPFL got its licence to do business as an investment firm in November 2003, enabling it to start its network from scratch — there was no legacy system to worry about.

“”We were able to launch not only a whole voice-over-IP network, but also our investment advisor workstation and all the software required to do brokerage,”” says Eng.

“”I had a discussion with our CEO, about whether this is the right time to go with voice-over-IP, or go with a traditional PBX system,”” he recalls. “”(Was) this technology good enough to run our core business?””

In the first year and a half, there were no problems, just benefits. Using also Bell’s VPN network and network mangement services, RPFL can monitor its network 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and maintain full redundancy to eliminate any risk of failure or downtime.

Andrew McKinney, Richardson’s director of technical services, notes other advantages as well. “”Basically, we do power over Ethernet so we don’t even have to actually plug the phones into anything except the jack. We run cable

to each desktop so that actually reduces our infrastucture costs allowing us to build up our branches with less cabling. It also makes it a lot easier from a move perspective.

“”If there is a move in the office, we don’t need a telecom guy or a Bell rep, or anybody else. We use the same technical expertise we already have in place. If it wasn’t voice over IP, our people wouldn’t touch this with a 10-foot pole.””

McKinney can only guess, but he estimates it would take twice as much staff to manage a “”standard voice and data network”” as a single IP network, not to mention the productivity gains the company is starting to explore.

For example, one of RFPL’s Winnipeg-based investment advisors is actually able to work out of a Mexican location for three months of the year using IP. “”Our clients don’t know it… to them, it looks just like a Winnipeg number. That’s the beauty of voice-over-IP.””

RFPL is now exploring the possibility of bringing a version of Microsoft Outlook to the IP telephone’s display screen. So when a customer calls in, the phone can bring up client information on the phone. “”It’s an enabler for our advisors to service their clients better, “” says McKinney.

On the other end of the IP spectrum is Whirlpool Corp., one of the world’s leading manufacturers of major home appliances. Whirlpool has 68,000 employees and nearly 50 manufacturing and technology research centres, four of them in Canada.

In January 2005, Whirpool announced a $16-million networking contract with AT&T to integrate 140 locations in Europe and North America. The contract expands an existing Virtual Telecommunications Network Service relationship with AT&T.

Whirlpool’s Internet Protocol Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a significant branch of its global network. Many use wireless technology to access the main network. “”We have a lot of folks traveling, doing sales, and they need to get on our network outside the office,”” says Richard Perrotta, director of global network engineering and services. “”It’s a critical business application… I’d say the ability to connect to our network from anywhere in the world has increased our productivity tenfold.””

Business as usual

The VPN and its VoIP are the networks of choice for Whirlpool’s branches in emerging markets. In North America, it serves as a backup network. If Whirlpool’s main network is having trouble, the company can switch to the VPN and continue business as usual. “”If there is a problem in the production line, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars an hour. The VPN is an essential part of our redundancy scheme.””

Whirlpool engineers are also using the VPN for real-time collaboration. The company’s Duet product line is one of its most profitable, and in 2003, designers in Europe and North America were able to speed up development on new offerings. “”Sharing information and connecting via the VPN was essential,”” says Perrotta. “”That simply would not be possible on a public line.””

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