Voxcom rebuilds with IP telephony after fire wipes out HQ

Voxcom, a company that specializes in handling emergency response procedures, was looking for greater communications reliability – especially since it suffered a disaster of its own a few years ago.

After its business survived a fire and nine-month absence from its Edmonton headquarters, the company starting rolling out IP communications from Avaya to increase the reliability, scalability and flexibility of its network.

Voxcom monitors more than 106,000 locations across Canada, with operators trained to respond to emergencies such as fire, intrusion and environmental alarms. Its Emergency Response Centre is a call centre that relies on technology to provide operators with relevant information about customers within seconds of receiving an alarm.

But it’s a fragmented industry, with close to 3,000 companies competing in the security alarm space. The top 10 companies – which include Voxcom – have a relatively small market share. “They’re all pretty small operators and we’ve always had a focus around providing a reliable, scalable infrastructure,” said Pat Sparrow, vice-president of operations with Voxcom Security Systems.

In the spring of 2003, the company was looking to make some changes to its telephony platform, but then disaster struck. That July, a fire wiped out its head office, and employees were re-located to its backup facility for nine months. “We learned a fair bit from that,” he said. “We had a good solid disaster recovery plan – if we didn’t have the system in place, we probably wouldn’t be around today.”

At that point, Avaya loaned Voxcom a number of phones and a switch in a temporary site, which existed for about eight or nine months. When employees moved back into the head office in January 2004, Voxcom started upgrading its network – for two reasons. First, it needed a more stable, flexible platform for disaster recovery planning. Second, it wanted to seamlessly route calls to personnel in branch offices.

Voxcom rolled out Avaya’s Media Server Gateway in its Edmonton headquarters, which allows the company to layer on a number of applications including skills-based routing and quality call monitoring, said Dean La Riviere, director of sales in Western Canada with Avaya Canada Corp.

Voxcom recently rolled out Avaya Communication Manager and Avaya Contact Centre, which provide telephony and contact centre routing, reporting and resource management capabilities. Verint, one of Avaya’s partners, provides call recording.

Voxcom’s original network design was more of a traditional PBX, but the upgrade let them maintain about 85 per cent of their original investment, said La Riviere. By moving to the new network design, which optimizes IP, they’re able to extend the functionality of the hub site out to their branch locations.

“The first phase was to provide a backup facility as a business continuity, disaster recovery site in Sherwood Park, which is just east of Edmonton,” said La Riviere. The next phase was to extend the gateway functionality to branch locations in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, which it’s just completing now.

“They were tied somewhat because they didn’t have the ability to bring in the branches in the past,” said La Riviere. Voxcom is using a “flat, consolidate and extend” model, where the network is “flattened” using IP. Rather than six distinct, disparate systems, the company now has one. “That really has some payback for them in terms of simplifying their requirements,” he said. “They don’t have to replicate all of the applications at the branch locations.”

Voxcom is able to structure levels of availability for employees and to field higher-level calls to specialists. If the company makes an acquisition down the road, it will be able to roll out the system to the acquired company, quickly bringing them up to speed on its standards in call routing, said Sparrow. It could also extend this functionality to at-home agents.

In the call centre business, 60-70 per cent of costs come from human resources, said La Riviere. “[Voxcom] really wants to make sure they have the biggest bang for their buck,” he said. “Now they can share resources and it extends their reach to other people in the call centre, versus just the Edmonton location.”

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