The Geomant group, with offices in several European countries and also in the United States, incurred significant phone charges (roaming) every month, so that the employees could stay in touch. Furthermore, the ongoing workload of employees (meetings, trips) caused recurring problems in reaching each other as it was uncertain when the others would have time. That resulted in lower communication efficiency and higher communication costs again. However, recently a Unified Communication solution, based on Office Communication Server 2007, was implemented, integrated even with the PBXs. The outcome in headwords: Presence awareness, instant messaging with the ability to quickly look up conversations retrospectively, considerable savings through internet-based voice calls (VoIP) and multi-user videoconferences and enhanced integration with other Microsoft applications.
Geomant is a company primarily focusing on telecommunications services, with its history and foundation linked to former employees of Lucent Technologies and AVAYA. Geomant, now turned global, was established in 2000 in Hungary, formed from the services divisions of these companies. The company remained true to this legacy. It provides only services, and does not act as a reseller, nor sells hardware. Services are only sold through partners, with the main focus on call-centre technologies and CRM applications, in particular installation and customisation services. The annual turnover for Geomant in Hungary is EUR 1,500,000 (from services).
As a result of the incredibly rapid growth in the past few years, Geomant now has 8 offices, not only in Hungary but also in the Czech Republic, Poland, Serbia, the United Kingdom and since 2006 also in the USA, with the current headcount amounting to more than 125. “In the second half of 2006, when they became more active on the telecommunications market, we formed a closer partnership with Microsoft. “We are proud to say that Geomant was the first company in Hungary to have implemented Exchange 2007 Unified Messaging as a live system, while we were among the first companies in Europe to carry out reference installations in Germany”, says Attila Megyeri, Geomant Program Manager dedicated to Microsoft solutions, who also shares the information that Geomant had developed an add-on product for Microsoft® Exchange Server 2007 together with the Redmond development team.
This case study describes a new project though, in which the idea was to lower phone costs for Geomant and to improve the efficiency of collaboration between the employees.
The underlying reason was, as also mentioned in the introduction that Geomant now has 8 offices worldwide, so efficient communication within the organisation is of utmost importance, especially for the geographically dispersed nature of the company. “On top of all that, we provide our services in the entire European region, which means that a large number of our engineers are always on the go, at the airport, in a hotel or at the client's premises, so Geomant spent very much on communication. This was primarily reflected in the enormous roaming charges and we also had other hurdles to deal with. First we tried overcoming these difficulties in an ad-hoc manner, relying on publicly available instant messaging and VoIP solutions, but we soon realised that these solutions are not up to corporate security requirements, for example logging features were lacking and the risks of potential information leaks through these channels were also there. Functionality was also wanting, for example there was no integration with Office. After the experiment with the publicly available systems, we wanted to implement a more sophisticated, more reliable and uniform system,” Attila Megyeri described the business situation before the project.
The Unified Communication solution of Microsoft turned out to be the right answer to this challenge. The Unified Communication solution of Microsoft is centred around Office Communication Server 2007 and its client application, Office Communicator 2007. These tools enable Unified communication, which consists of four fundamental components: presence awareness, instant messaging, VoIP, and multi-user videoconferencing through the Internet. Although these terms may sound arcane at first, one should not think of very complicated things, but rather useful services! For example presence awareness in the Office Communicator 2007 client application indicates the current availability of contacts, that is, if the given employee is at his or her computer, and if yes, whether he or she is available, at a meeting or away. Relying on integration with 2007 Microsoft® Office system, this information is presented by the system from the data in the electronic calendar of the partner and the information provided in the client application, but if the partner is at a meeting, you can also see when he or she is expected to become available again. If you know that, you can easily select the right communication channel (e-mail, instant message, phone call etc.), which are all only a click away from the Office Communicator 2007 client application. Thanks to the abovementioned integration, the presence information is available to the users in Microsoft® Office Outlook® 2007, on Microsoft® Office SharePoint 2007 pages and also in other 2007 Office system applications.
This Office Communication Server 2007-based system also features instant messaging capabilities. Messages are centrally logged for later retrieval, and they are also available from the mail system. Besides, VoIP (Voice over IP) enables voice calls, and any phone can be called while incoming calls can be received in Office Communicator 2007, if the integration with the telephone systems is implemented. Furthermore, Office Communicator 2007 is able to comprehensively manage all telephone functionality (call forwarding, call redirect, reroute to Exchange Server 2007 voicemail etc.) and the OCS-integrated service also allows multi-user videoconferences through the internet to be provided as an internal service.
This technology was implemented at Geomant as part of the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program (TAP), which allows some partners selected by Microsoft to implement some technologies, such as very early betas, in advance, before the official release of the product. “We have installed all the versions since the betas and wrote weekly reports on our experiences, about the bugs still existing back then and the installation issues. Thanks to our participation in this program, we could build a skill base sufficient for us to implement Office Communications Server for ourselves. Then, after the learning curve in an isolated environment, we could go live with the software within 1 or 2 weeks,” explained Attila Megyeri, who also described how they transitioned from only 4 to 5 users having access to the server first (at the end of summer 2007), then only a few weeks before the interview for this case study was done, access was extended to all employees. This is also an indication of the success of the implementation.
“When you are talking about how the system was received by the users, first they did not understand why they were supposed to switch from the earlier public VoIP system,” Attila Megyeri admitted, then hastily added, “When they started using it, and saw how nicely it is integrated with Office and what further functionality became available, how easy it was to track received and missed calls, conversations, and that calendar integration allowed people to see when a busy colleague would become available again, the solution received a very positive welcome from then on, and the employees got to like it at lightning speed.”
It does not take a great deal of effort to make Attila Megyeri talk about the benefits of the deployment, words flow so fast I can hardly keep up with the pace in taking notes of the benefits the Program Manager starts listing. “I would like to highlight only a few of the countless benefits resulting from the deployment. We had a fairly critical issue with the colleagues staying in different time zones and as a result it is not always trivial whether we can give a call to that employee, or would he be still asleep, or maybe having a meeting with a customer. An excellent solution to this issue is that now we can see the presence information for that colleague, so there is no need for unnecessary rounds to go, and another positive feature is that we can access the colleague even if it is 3 AM in the US but the colleague couldn’t sleep anyway. We also realise that recently communication changed significantly, with e-mails often containing only one or two sentences going to and fro, we wanted to replace those with the IM feature. However, that service would also have to comply with the corporate security policies, and only OCS could do that. It’s very important that OCS can also store these instant messages. This also means that when I reinstall my computer or log on from another workstation, I can still have access to the data, thanks to the server-side storage. This storage approach does not allow statements from a conversation to be denied later, you can even archive them,” continues Megyeri, then adds, “We see great benefits in the fact that our employees are accessible anywhere, in particular with the customer or colleague calling their desk phones, thanks to the fact that we have integrated Office Communication Server also with our PBX. When the parties are connected to the internet, the call takes place through VoIP, free of charge. It also allows us to receive calls in Communicator even when abroad or at a customer's premises, behind a firewall, and also to launch calls with the caller ID of the desk phone. So calls launched by our employees can go out from our corporate infrastructure,” says the expert. “One of the major issues had been that when we were visiting a customer, for example an international company with very strict firewall rules, we couldn’t get in touch using the conventional, public solutions. However, it works perfectly with Office Communications Server without the use of any VPN! This is also very useful for working remotely or from home, both quite common at Geomant, now the employees can take part in conference calls without incurring personal phone costs”.
“The implemented system is set up in a way that incoming calls to the fixed-line number first ring the desk phone for 5 to 10 seconds, and when there is no reply, the call is forwarded to Communicator, assuming that you are not in the office, then the application finds you wherever you are in the world. If there is no reply even in Communicator, the call lands in the electronic voicemail, and the caller can leave a message. Even more complex rules can be specified, for example if the call is not answered in Communicator, it can be forwarded to a mobile phone, but, say, only during working hours. You can also specify the calls incoming to the PBX to be automatically routed to Communicator and the application can ring both the desk and the mobile phones at the same time. The video call is another very positive feature. The calls launched from Office Communicator can be escalated to video by a single click if the parties have the necessary webcams. That makes communication much better as you can have a discussion with visible gestures. That is a very useful feature for remote meetings. What is more, OCS also enables multi-user videoconferencing, and very simply at that. We had tried very sophisticated and complex videoconferencing systems which turned out to be very complicated, but now it really takes only one or two clicks to assemble a videoconference,” emphasised Megyeri.
The list of benefits could be continued with the option to create federations between partner companies, “Which we did, for example we can see the presence of colleagues working for Microsoft. It makes the exchanging of instant messages or launching free phone calls to each other very simple. We like this feature very much,” says Megyeri.
By now Office Communications Server has been deployed for the entire Geomant group as the communication solution. Although for the time being only employees of the Hungarian office have the option to call out through the Budapest PBX, the others are permitted for internal communication only, as the integration with the PBX was only implemented here, but in the very near future, later this year, Geomant intends to extend it to all other countries so that “least cost routing” could be used, to route calls always through the cheapest direction. So when a colleague in the US wants to call a number in Budapest, a VoIP connection is established between the United States and Hungary, and the call goes out to the public network from here, which in practice means that we would be able to make phone calls for local tariffs. Of course, the same setup would work the other way round, too. “We expect major savings from this change in the near future!” adds Megyeri enthusiastically.
“We are very satisfied with Office Communications Server. The deployment results not only in cost savings but also more effectiveness for the employees individually and increased efficiency for communication. It makes cross-border efforts and staying in touch on an ongoing basis much easier”.
The features of the communication system became so popular with Geomant that now they are also piloting the client application for mobile phones or smartphones. The good news is that Microsoft® Office Communicator Mobile can be installed also on PDAs and smartphones. Currently it provides the instant messaging and presence functionality, and the inclusion of VoIP calls is a very much expected feature, soon to become reality. “As soon as the VoIP option is implemented, we are going to be using it also very actively,” points out a future direction Attila Megyeri, whose desk boasts an extraordinary telephone, too. As Geomant has already deployed the desktop IP phones offered by Microsoft to log on to Office Communications Server 2007. For example, a “Tanjay” IP-based phone graces the desk of the Geomant employee, which incorporates the Office Communicator 2007 client application, and it can be used to logon to the Office Communications Server 2007 system the same as if you did that from a desktop PC.
Attila Megyeri also tells us that the experience gained in the implementation allows Geomant to offer assistance services for similar deployments through their partners in the whole of Europe in the future. Currently Geomant is seeking partners to realise this objective.