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Quintum’s Tenors Guide Innovation

By Richard "Zippy" Grigonis

Innovation Technologies Worldwide, since 1988, has been a key member of the hospitality industry, with its Inline family of voicemail systems installed in nearly every major hotel brand, along with add-on products like DID servers, call accounting, Internet call forwarding, and more. Now, it has transitioned those existing voicemail products to a more modular product line that encompasses voicemail, PBX, and a host of other hospitality specific applications, in ComXchange, its new flagship product.

As in most any industry, the competition is fierce in the hospitality space, a situation made all the more precarious by shrinking budgets. So, to keep pace with customer needs, and to generally enhance its guest relations capabilities, the WISCO Hotel Group, which manages nine franchised hotels in Wisconsin (with two more under development for 2007-08), agreed to have ComXchange installed at its Holiday Inn Madison-West.

Within months, WISCO saw a noticeable impact on day-to-day operations at the facility, and it installed ComXchange at four other properties, with plans to install ComXchange in the remaining four properties as well as at any future sites.

The trouble with any new technology is the need to balance the investment with benefits, particularly in today’s multivendor communications environment. However, ComXchange consolidates IP PBX, voicemail, call accounting, hosted conferencing, unified messaging, and advanced hospitality support features on a single platform.

“We had multiple vendors and often, when a problem would arise, one would blame the other,” commented Dave Phaneuf, WISCO’s Vice President of Operations. “In our business, we just need to get the problem fixed or else it’s costing us money. Until we installed ComXchange, we had no idea the cost savings we’d realize by having one interface.”

However, the hospitality space, both despite and due to the number of customers, while looking to benefit from new communications technologies, also tends to lag behind other verticals in its ability to “go all-IP.” Because many facilities are unable to run new cabling to rooms, and also because of the training required for guests to be able to use many of today’s new IP endpoints, not to mention the costs associated with replacing all the endpoints in a hotel, a large portion of the hospitality vertical still relies heavily on the PSTN and analog phones.

“Most properties want to keep their existing phones,” explained Tony Engel, Director of Emerging Technologies at Innovation. “They look at the phones primarily as a cost, but once there’s a benefit, in terms of content or some of the IVR apps that can be implemented, they’ll start investing in newer phones.”

“What we see across the industry is that, as people adopt new applications on converged platforms, they look to deploy technology in a non-disruptive way,” added Chuck Rutledge, Vice President of Marketing at Quintum Technologies, which usually mean not doing a complete forklift replacement at once.

This means that hotels deploying IP PBXs need a reliable, scalable way to interface with older technologies, like FXS and FXO stations, T1s, and of course, the PSTN. For the WISCO Group, Innovation looked at eight or nine gateway manufacturers, all of which provide SIP-based connectivity between the IP PBX and legacy infrastructures, including the one- and two-line analog phones in guestrooms. Importantly, they also need to be able to accommodate many special requirements that have become increasingly common in the hospitality space. For its gateway and trunking needs, Innovation chose Quintum.

“Quintum, by far, was the most accommodating; we had some special needs with message waiting indicators — the hospitality industry uses some odd protocols there,” said Engel. “They did some custom work for us, which hit the nail on the head for what we needed in a device.”

Unlike many businesses that deploy gateways from Quintum and other vendors, most hotels do not necessarily need all the available features, since they tend to do little site-to-site calling. Rather, their primary use for the gateways and trunking support is to enable local and long distance calling for guests.

Because they need only the basic gateway functionality, the ability to support customized dial plans becomes increasingly important. In the WISCO case, this meant support for neon and LED message waiting lights. Traditional PBXs use high-voltage neon (a 90V light and a lower, 24V LED), as opposed to the FSK (Frequency-shift Keying) scheme in most newer SIP gateways, which isn’t well suited for the guestroom devices.

“We gave Quintum the specs, and it was quite impressive — within about a week or so, they had a working model for those requirements,” said Engel. “That was huge for us, and I don’t know that we could have entered the market without that, because it would have meant replacing all the existing guestroom phones as well, which is not cost-effective. Instead, we were able to emulate all three types of message waiting lights in the same manner the traditional PBXs could.”

The need to support traditional message waiting indicators again goes back to the difficulty in “training” hotel guests on the features of new phones. For instance, in a traditional enterprise environment, it is relatively easy to train users to understand that a stutter dial tone means there is a message waiting. In the hospitality arena, however, it’s a little more difficult, since you have to deal with new guests each day who are not familiar with the system.

The other customized feature Quintum was able to provide was a return dial tone, another legacy carryover. When a guest dials ‘9’ or ‘8’ to get an outside line, they typically expect to hear a dial tone again indicating they can continue dialing. Most newer phone systems don’t offer that feature. In the hotel environment, that tends to create a situation where the front desk becomes inundated with calls from guests complaining they cannot dial out, when, in fact, they can. Quintum was able to eliminate that burden on hotel staff by delivering the return dial tone.

According to Rutledge, Quintum is asked to address dial plan requirements quite frequently, largely because there is a wide variety of dial plans in use today, particularly when considering hospitality on a global scale. In an age of mergers and acquisitions, requests to support and translate between multiple dial plans, in fact, have become rather common, and the ability to accommodate those requests has become critical to business success — for both the hotel and the gateway vendor.

“At the hotel where WISCO’s business offices are, we’ve been able to significantly reduce call volume at the front desk,” said Phaneuf. “Not only does this save us time and money staffing, but we’re able to provide better customer service to the guests in front of us — and for us, that’s what it’s all about.”

In addition to Innovation’s ComXchange platform, nine WISCO properties have been outfitted with Quintum Tenor AX and DX gateways for provide all the analog and T1 interfaces to the IP PBX via a SIP connection. In fact, Innovation TW says it has now standardized on Quintum gateways at all its sites that require analog support.

According to Engel, deployment of the Tenor gateways was simple ­­­– they worked right out of the box — which he attributes to Quintum’s use of open SIP standards.

But, the reason Innovation chose Quintum, he says, is, “The people they have and the attention they give their customers. We worked with several others that weren’t willing to do the customization that would enable us to compete in this marketplace. Quintum went far and above to help us do that. Of course, we were very impressed with the product itself, particularly the survivability element.”

In any service industry, customer management is the key to increasing revenues, and when a hotel is able to proactively meet guest demands, it means a higher level of customer satisfaction. While many of today’s IP Communications products and solutions offer countless features, many are beyond the scope of what the hospitality industry needs. Instead, hoteliers need real solutions that are able to meet their specific needs, and help them save time and money and better service their guests.

ComXchange, along with the Tenor gateways and Quintum’s ability to customize, has brought that to the WISCO properties, and to all the Innovation sites going forward. The ComXchange applications are bringing a new value proposition to the hotel industry, and Innovation’s customers now need to be able to leverage their existing network infrastructures to benefit from the new software platform, which is what the Tenor AX provides — a high capacity analog interface to the phones — and the Tenor DX creates a trunk from the IP PBX to the phone network. So, what Quintum effectively provides is the interface between ComXchange and the legacy telephony network — both on the telephone network side and the hotel infrastructure side.

“What is being done here with Innovations TW is one of the big advantages of VoIP as a whole,” said Rutledge. “You have a particular vertical, and a particular set of applications, delivered in a way to use technology to serve that vertical in a new and different way. The technology is being integrated with the innovation of the application, and it makes it possible to take the whole product out to a very specific industry, and deliver value.”

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