Cloud-based phone system puts users in control

Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

When Organic by Nature completed the move into its new building in Long Beach last August, it needed a new phone system. Instead of opting for a conventional hard-wired system, the company chose a cloud-based solution from RingCentral.

As it turned it out, RingCentral greatly simplified phone management -- and let end users manage their own phone accounts without help from IT.

Tom Merz, director of IT and facilities at Organic by Nature, a company with 47 employees that makes organic supplements, says that moving offices triggered the change. "The decision to transition from a PBX-in-the-closet system to a cloud system was driven by necessity. The new facility did not have the provisions for 32 lines from the phone company. The building itself had very little phone wiring but was completely wired for Ethernet," he explained.

So Merz went looking for an alternative solution -- and happened to hear a radio ad by Leo Laporte endorsing RingCentral. "Our decision to approach RingCentral first was based, in part, by the fact that it was a Leo endorsement that caused us to change our network security and antivirus software. That was one of the better changes we have made, so RingCentral had a rung up on the competition," he said.

Merz says the old system consisted of a Toshiba Strata DK424 PBX coupled with a Toshiba Stratagy IVP8 voicemail system. They had 32 lines, which they ran on standard copper wire. He said that managing the old system was cumbersome and time-consuming.

"Adding or removing lines required adding line cards to handle the incoming copper and station cards to run the handsets. Our users were required to come to IT in order to make any change to the system. Even something as simple as changing a speed-dial button on the phones required a complicated series of codes to be entered on the handset. Changes to menus, dialing chains, directory name changes, etc. required a laptop and a hyper terminal session via serial cable sitting in a phone closet," he said.

Upkeep was costly. The company had just one IT person, who often had to call in an outside consultant to deal with the system because he couldn't keep up with service requirements. "Since the IT department consisted of one guy who also happened to be the facilities manager for four buildings, spread out over a block, even 5 or 10 minutes of dealing with an unscheduled setup or configuration issue delayed any other facilities tasks. If we needed anything more complex such as changing what lines rang to what phone or altering ring groups and departments, we had to call an outside service at several hundred dollars a visit."

Merz says the difference with RingCentral was apparent from the beginning. The old system was installed over four days and involved eight return visits by service technicians. By contrast, the RingCentral solution was programmed in a single day, so it was set up and ready to go before the phones arrived. Another big difference: no physical wiring was required beyond the Ethernet infrastructure already in place.

After some initial training, end users could manage their phones without any help from IT whatsoever. "The Web management capability has allowed us to train our users to make common changes themselves. They can manage their own presence, business hour, directory, and notification settings without any help from IT. Changing ring groups, departments, phone trees, etc. now takes minutes -- without an outside service. I frequently make changes from the RingCentral app on my iPhone while standing in front of the user requesting the change. Moving a user from one desk to another no longer requires digging into the phone closet with a punch tool and tracing the lines down to physically switch the wires," he said.

Merz says end users always have to adjust to change, but overall the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. "As with any change, there were hiccups at the beginning as people adapted to the new system. Things settled down quickly as people began to discover and use features they never knew they wanted until they had them," he said.

Among the favorite RingCentral features are faxing directly to and from email. Sales managers and executives enjoy being able to redirect work calls to cell phones without having to actually give out their cell numbers and the call center folks like that they can customize their hold music to advertise the latest specials.

He says users do miss some functions offered by the old system, specifically the ability to use it as an intercom, but overall people are happy with the change. Especially accounting, since the new system cut costs in half -- and that doesn't count all the labor saved.

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