December 2007 | Volume 10/ Number 12
Allworx Shifts Lamborghini into High Gear
One of the more gratifying aspects of our industry is to watch a business successfully take the ultimate plunge by performing a "fork-lift upgrade", disposing of an overpriced 20th century PBX of limited functionality and replacing it with the finest example of a 21st century communications system. How exciting - almost mesmerizing - an experience it is to watch the transformation in action: the initial trepidation over the departure of the old clunker PBX, the easy installation and configuration of the new system to suit the organization's needs and goals concerning efficiency and productivity, the look on the faces of employees who suddenly realize that loads of new and incredibly useful features are now available to them, and the long-term positive change in people's lives as an adjunct and bonus to the whole process.
Grant Johnson, Operations Manager of Lamborghini Orange County, says, We communicate among our Orange Country location, a Calabasas store, and a Lotus dealership in Beverly Hills. We disposed of our old Toshiba phone system and have now connected all three locations using Allworx technology.
Grant Johnson first heard about Allworx (http://www.allworx.com) from another fellow who happened to be named Johnson - Mark Johnson, a representative of his long-time local phone reseller, The Phone Connection, of Signal Hill, California (near Long Beach), a company which has since 1985 served the telecom equipment needs of over 6,000 active customers in Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside and even the San Fernando Valley. The Phone Connection buys, sells and installs both new and refurbished phone equipment such as AT&T, Norstar, Meridian, Panasonic and Toshiba systems. One of the few such companies that serve both business and residential customers, The Phone Connection's services include residential house inside wiring, CATV, DSL, networking, and voice/data cabling to different locations.
We were discussing with them how to interconnect all of our stores and make our life easier, says Grant Johnson. Mark Johnson explained to us the advantages of Allworx, which was the most cost-effective of all of the phone systems I looked into. I certainly was more impressed with it than the larger PBX competitors. Mark Johnson kept telling me that this system would give me the most features per dollar, and he was right. You get so much. Allworx sent a representative out here and he conducted a demo for us and he showed me everything, and I was really impressed. I told Mark Johnson to go ahead and he ultimately set it up for us.
I was then amazed at how smoothly installing the network and the Allworx system went, says Johnson. I was petrified in the early days when everything was about to come online, and of course we were all wondering if this or that is going to work the way it it's supposed to. I've been through that kind of horror before, and I must admit this installation very well.
Allworx is known in the IP communications industry for its fully-integrated, most bang for the buck IP phone and data system for small and medium-sized businesses. Each system includes a small-footprint IP PBX with scads of PBX and key system features, such as voicemail, unified communications and abbreviated three-digit dialing, along with support for analog and VoIP phones, site-to-site and remote user calling capability (remote users are a virtual extension). You can access or transfer alls to any site or to a mobile phone in follow me fashion.
Many of us travel from store-to-store, says Johnson, and with Allworx we can use its 'follow-me' features. If I'm in a particular office one day, all of my calls can get directed there. Or they can be directed automatically into the next office or my cell phone or whatever. It's really convenient to use. It has a lot of features for users in such a small box.
Allworx unified communications and messaging capabilities include the ability to transfer voicemail into email, which makes it easy to forward messages along with a note. More than one person can now hear the same message, and read the note's comments. Since voicemail can be forwarded to a cell phone, staff members working now only have to give out a single phone number instead of several (cell phone, office phones, etc.) Callers can find staff members whether they're in any particular office or on the road.
An Allworx system can scale up to 100 user extensions and 100 system extensions.
On one system we have about 34 phones installed, says Grant Johnson. Our other systems are serving about 20 to 25 phones each. We've also got some cordless phones plugged into the Allworx system. They're nice to have around the shop, since it gives us considerable mobility in our huge [36,000 square foot] facility.
The Allworx system enables us to use three-digit dialing over VoIP connections between our locations for all of our voice calls, says Grant Johnson. So we can call from one location to another without having to make more expensive conventional phone calls, or tie up outside lines or any of that kind of stuff, which is really great. The actual interconnection among all of our stores is done with an MPLS [Multiprotocol Label Switching] network. [MPLS provides traffic isolation and prioritizes voice packet delivery without substantial overhead.] We use Cisco routers to handle the MPLS network. We used TelePacific Communications [http://www.telepacific.com] a facilities-based CLEC [Competitive Local Exchange Carrier] headquartered in Los Angeles, to bring in the network, and we tapped into that to connect all of our stores together with a standard T1 bandwidth of 1.5 megabits per second. TelePacific's T1s have been very reliable, more so than those of our previous telecom provider.
Advanced features can be added to an Allworx system with the following optional software packages, each sold as a one-time licensing fee for an unlimited number of users:
• Call Assistant - Allows operators, receptionists or individual users (both local or remote) to monitor the state of every line in the system and to record and/or dispatch calls by answering, transferring, parking or sending to voicemail.
• Call Queuing - Software that can provide full statistics on the number of calls received, serviced, abandoned, exited and timed out for each queue. With some Allworx models (the 10x and 24x) this software allows up to 10 queues with 16 calls per queue, for a maximum of 32 callers across all queues. Moreover, individual phones can answer multiple queues.
• Conference Calling - Designed to handle an unlimited number of users, this package gives you the ability to set up new conference calls, authorize users to create new conference calls, access the conference interface via a dedicated Allworx portal, add conference center access via an auto-attendant, modify existing conferences, set secure ID and passwords, view all system-wide conference calls (as well as the caller participants and their caller ID).
• Group Calendaring - This supports group calendaring across all users, meeting acceptance tracking, popup reminders for appointments (or personal project deadlines), automatic calendar updates, recurring private and public meetings, and a familiar month-and-day calendar.
• Internet Call Access - For sending and receiving Internet phone calls, this option can connect the Allworx system to an ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider) and supports site-to-site calling and a SIP gateway.
• VPN - The optional Virtual Private Network software package allows remote users (traveling or at home) access over a secure connection to your company's intranet situated behind the Allworx firewall.
Allworx can tailor each system to do different things for different kinds of businesses, says Johnson. That's one of the nice things about the company and this system. We did much of the configuring ourselves under the auspices of The Phone Connection. They helped us out with the initial programming and those kinds of things. We're 'hands-on' IT guys here, so it was a matter of, 'Let me get in there and play'.
We originally had installed a really old phone system that basically did nothing, says Johnson. Going from that to this Allworx system is an amazing experience. We're still learning all of the things it can do. The web-based browser management is really great. It's easy for our system administrator to make a quick adjustment or 'tweak' the system. In the old days we had to call upon a third party vendor to reprogram everything. Similarly, you don't have to be an expert to reconfigure the system. Even if you have just general phone system knowledge, you can get in there and click on a few things and you're done. The fun part is tweaking the system, and we've done quite a bit of that, getting the system to do all kinds of things. It's exciting to see a call forwarded to a cell phone or have someone call a cordless or mobile phone with a three-digit extension and you see your employees' eyes light up and they say, 'I didn't know I could do that!'
Allworx backs up your settings too, says Johnson, so if you make a mistake you can restore the system to its previous state and configuration. That makes it easy to test features and try out things. In fact, I'm still scrutinizing all of its features. I've got things set now to where my calls can follow me around. And, of course my secretary loves it because she can now find me wherever I am.
I know that other systems can do this, says Johnson, but in terms of the number of features per dollar, it would be difficult to beat an Allworx system. I think they have the most features and options of any vendor out there. Plus, it's very easy to use. You don't have to deal with 47 million menus on the screens of the phones as with other systems. Just push a couple of buttons and you're there. Other systems seemed too complicated, plus in many cases you had to pay an annual fee just for them to allow the software to work via a license. I didn't want any of that complexity.
Ironically, the one feature Johnson hasn't set up is an auto-attendant (Allworx allows you to set up nine of them if you wish).
We don't even have a formal call center, says Johnson. And we don't use the auto-attendant - I and the owner of the company are not big fans of those 'press one for this and press two for that' IVR-type auto-attendants because we both tend to get 'stuck' in them and become frustrated. We're customer service-oriented, since we have high-end customers who have paid considerable money [around $300,000] for superlative automobiles and excellent service. So if a customer or prospective customer calls in, we obviously don't want them to encounter anything like an impersonal IVR system. Instead, we prefer that people calling into the system actually speak with a real person with a heartbeat and they are personally directed to an appropriate party. Our receptionist - a live auto-attendant - answers the calls, parks them, routes them, and does whatever else is necessary to satisfy the caller.
So far, this has been win-win situation, says Johnson. I'm enjoying the Allworx system, and am familiarizing myself with all of its features. It's so feature-rich that there are obviously some bells and whistles that I'm not going to use now, but the features are there, ready and waiting if we need them in the future.
I'm sure the Allworx system is good for the next five to ten years of ownership by us, says Johnson.
Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC's IP Communications Group.
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