"Our branches had every type of phone system imaginable," says Stan Adams, SouthTrust's group vice president of voice and data. With 730 branches and 13,200 employees, SouthTrust, a regional bank based in Birmingham, Ala., had been growing through acquisitions since 2000.
"Dealing with all those maintenance programs was turning into a major management headache. We were about to upgrade all our branches to T1s and switched 100Mb anyway, so we decided to build a converged IP voice/data network that would let us manage all our voice and data services centrally from Birmingham."
Now all of SouthTrust's sites are populated with IP-based phone handsets connected over the data network to a few Cisco CallManager IP PBX server clusters in Birmingham, which are in turn backed up by another CallManager cluster in Atlanta. "The CallManager clusters manage call setup, voice mail, and long distance for all our sites," Adams says. "The savings we've seen from centralized management are incredible. And now we can take advantage of cheaper high volume long distance rates and bypass long distance tolls on the branch WAN connections."
SouthTrust's story is a great example of how far enterprise VoIP (voice over IP) has come in the past few years. The consensus is that VoIP, which describes many different scenarios for running call control and digitized voice traffic over enterprise IP data networks, works. "The early issues of voice quality, quality of service, scalability, migration, features, and functionality in enterprise IP phone systems have pretty much been solved," says Jorge Blanco, vice president of marketing at Avaya, a major player in both the legacy TDM (time-division multiplexing) and IP telephony market. Steve Blood, research vice president at Gartner, agrees. "You can now choose from a host of VoIP integrators such as IBM and [Hewlett-Packard] and service providers such as Verizon that have real expertise and track records deploying VoIP in the enterprise." Verizon typically acts as an integrator and then takes over management of customer-based VoIP equipment. Many carriers also offer an IP form of Centrex to small and some midsize businesses.
Perhaps even more exciting than cost savings is the promise VoIP holds for enabling true converged voice and data applications. Instead of being the separate silo that it has been up until now, voice is on the verge of becoming simply another network application that can integrate with other real-time applications -- such as instant messaging, presence, and Web and video conferencing -- to enhance collaboration among geographically dispersed workgroups or partnering organizations. VoIP can merge with Web, e-mail, live chat, and phone interactions in a multimedia contact center that greatly improves customer service. And VoIP has the potential to integrate with ERP and other enterprise applications to speed up approvals that used to stop business processes in their tracks.
VoIP Under the Hood