Dimensions, which is the UK’s second-largest provider of social housing and other services for people with special needs, has installed a voice-over-IP telephony system covering all of its 250 sites around the country.
Dimensions focuses on supporting people with special needs, and this includes making it easy for people to contact Dimensions by phone. Historically, each of the 250 Dimensions sites had its own telephony system but as part of its service improvement plans, Dimensions wanted a nationwide, centralised phone system with improved call management, while still maintaining a local feel.
Ray Fletcher, head of IT and assisted technology, Dimensions, said, “It’s important to us to ensure that calls are answered quickly or can be easily transferred between offices. We were also finding the costs of operating our existing PSTN telephone switches high and many of these switches were also coming to the end of their natural lives.”
A managed CallPort VoIP service was provided by 8el, which already provided Dimensions with server hosting and a wide-area network. Ray Fletcher said, “It made sense to make use of this existing infrastructure and to use the available bandwidth for our voice services too. We could see that adding the VoIP service onto our existing WAN infrastructure would prove very cost effective. We needed minimal additional hardware, mainly consisting of providing employees with IP phones. It was a relatively low cost for a high gain, because it instantly provided us with a sophisticated set of call features.”
All local and national calls to fixed lines are free, while calls to mobile phones are cheaper than through other services. Dimensions estimates that its move to VoIP has already resulted in telephony savings of over 30 per cent, which is expected to rise to 40 per cent once the roll-out is complete.
Dimensions has found the that the call quality is very good, particularly as it does not degrade compared with traditional phone lines, even across standard DSL lines. Ray Fletcher said, “The key to ensure quality of service is to manage the bandwidth, ensuring that it matches the number of users and likely voice traffic.”
The VoIP service is managed remotely by 8el, with the configuration of the system controlled by Dimensions via a web-based interface. This enables the creation of tools such as call hunt groups so that if a phone isn’t answered in one office, the call can be automatically transferred to another location. The ease of rerouting calls also gives Dimensions a disaster-recovery facility if one or more sites are not accessible. 8el provided Dimensions with an operator console, with all the functions of a traditional PBX switchboard as a web interface. The roll-out of the service so far has been smooth, with most users unaware of the changes apart from the new phone on their desks.
Ray Fletcher said, “The fact that the service is managed for us is a massive advantage. We could have rolled out our own service, but as a small IT department, the cost of ensuring that we have staff trained and able to maintain the system would have been prohibitively expensive compared with using a specialist supplier. Also, having the service managed remotely frees up the IT team to focus on other tasks, such as managing applications and responding to users. We are the front end; we leave the background stuff to 8el.”