Early adopters give VoIP rave reviews

Some local businesses are taking advantage of the conveniences and cost savings that can come with a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephony system.
Companies with multiple locations, such as Wauwatosa Savings Bank and Meriter Health Services of Madison, and those that are preparing for the future, such as Orion Energy Systems, Plymouth, have all said the change was worth the risk that comes with implementing new technology.
"We have had VoIP in place for a little over three years now," said
Holly Flemming, director of information systems for Wauwatosa Savings Bank. "In general, with our growth and expansion, we had reached capacity with our PBX (private branch exchange) existing telephone system. Once we hit the point where we could no longer add extensions, we started looking at the alternatives, and VoIP came into the picture."
Flemming said Wauwatosa Savings Bank was attracted to VoIP because it fit with the company’s future plans. The bank can grow and add multiple extensions to its phone network without worrying about capacity.
The new system is easy to use and manage and allows for internal movement without re-assigning extensions, she said.
"As far as growth goes, we can add 25 phones to the system without a problem. With the VoIP telephony solution, growth is no longer an issue," Flemming said.
The IP handheld phones that accompany the system have their own IP address, just like any Web site. The phone can move from place to place and keep the same extension.
"The system is easy to manage and maintain," Flemming said. "When we have a lot of internal movement growth, the ease of the system allows employees to take their phones with them and plug them in at their new location with little to no configuration or maintenance by the IS department on our side, in terms of management."
Peter Strombom, chief information officer for Meriter Health Services of Madison, said he looked to VoIP for the capacity to grow, but also because he had seen success with other hospitals that have switched over.
"Meriter Hospital decided to set up a physician clinic in Middleton, and I wanted to put in a telephony system that could see us through a number of years. On that basis, we went with VoIP," Strombom said. "Down the road, I think VoIP is the way all telephony systems will go. As we expand our facilities, we will most likely incorporate VoIP. I focused on the smaller facility first, where we could really put our arms around the technology."
Strombom said the implementation was successful, and employees are able to understand and use the phones, although some may look different than a traditional phone.
Meriter Hospital is currently undergoing an expansion, and Strombom was able to use the VoIP system together with the PBX system that was already in place at the older area of the hospital. In three to five years, the hospital plans to be completely switched over to VoIP, he said.
Flemming said Wauwatosa Savings Bank was able to slowly implement VoIP because of its compatibility with the PBX.
"When we implemented the system, we were able to do so in small increments, working in conjunction with the system we had in place," Flemming said. "When we rolled out, we were able to go branch by branch and department by department in the corporate office instead of changing everything at once."
Lynda Sobstad, an accountant for Orion Energy Systems, Plymouth, said the VoIP is a convenience for the fast-paced environment at the environmentally friendly light fixture manufacturer.
Sobstad said Orion chose to switch to VoIP because the cost was about the same as a traditional phone system with the added convenience of features such as voice mail transferred to an inbox on an email program.
"Realistically, the future is going to be in computers or cell phones, and the more information you can connect through both is the future, especially for international calls," Sobstad said.
Both Flemming and Strombom agreed that the new technology has saved their companies money.
"Switching the phone system to VoIP has saved us money because we were able to reduce the number of POTS (plain old telephone service) lines and don’t need the PBX hardware at all the branches," Flemming said. "The VoIP phones are comparable in price to the other phones we were buying, and we can still have the same types of features like conference phones, as well as the plain 10-button phones."
Strombom said the cost of VoIP was marginally less expensive to install and use in the Meriter Health Clinic than a PBX system because the clinic effectively uses the data network to transfer voice signals.
"I seriously doubt that we will ever go back to the normal phone system,"
Flemming said. "The system is sophisticated. However, it is fairly simple and user-friendly. We had looked into various different systems and had different options but we chose VoIP."

June 25, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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