4-page Case Study - Posted 12/28/2009
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Credit Union Saves $225,000 Annually, Boosts Collaboration with Unified Communications
HarborOne, a leading credit union, balked at the growing expense of bringing branch managers and others to headquarters for weekly meetings and training that kept them from servicing customers. Instead, the credit union decided to try a unified communications and collaboration solution based on Microsoft software, with deployment help from Avanade. The financial savings are significant, eliminating the need to spend U.S.$150,000 per year for leased lines in branches. Additional cost savings come from replacing costly travel with Web conferencing that keeps HarborOne managers in the branches, where they better serve customers and save an estimated $75,000 to $100,000 in travel time. The solution also serves as a foundation for pandemic and disaster recovery planning, and is projected to become the basis for a more effective customer call center.
You don’t have to be a global corporation to recognize that time and money is lost when executives and managers travel between branch offices and the company’s headquarters. Take HarborOne Credit Union, for example.
The institution is the largest state-chartered community credit union in New England and one of the top 100 in the United States. The company has 16 branch offices —including 14 full-service branches—spread across four Massachusetts counties, with headquarters in Brockton. The company has been growing rapidly through both internal expansion and merger, most recently with Nations Heritage Federal Credit Union.
Travel Inhibits Productivity
Branch managers and personnel would travel weekly to headquarters for meetings and training. No airplanes were needed, but the meetings, including automobile travel, could take up to three hours per round trip. And as Leo Donohue, Senior Vice President for Retail Banking at HarborOne, is quick to point out, “Any time a manager isn’t at a branch, the manager is missing an opportunity to serve a customer—and an opportunity to sell.”
Branch managers weren’t the only ones making the round trip between the branches and Brockton headquarters. Executives would often travel to the branches for face-to-face meetings with employees. In addition, all branch staff would make the trip to headquarters annually for security training.
So the cost of collaboration for HarborOne included the time and cost of travel—a significant figure—as well as the cost of lost business opportunities due to occasional understaffing. Under the leadership of James Blake, President and Chief Executive Officer, the credit union was ready to look at alternatives to this poor collaboration model.
Existing Technology Is Too Limited
HarborOne considered but quickly rejected a solution based on Cisco technology, which already played a small role in the credit union’s network infrastructure. “We didn’t just want to replace traditional telephony with Internet telephony,” says Wayne Dunn, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at HarborOne. “We wanted an integrated communications and collaboration solution. For us, true collaboration was the key. Cisco didn’t offer that; it offered Internet or voice over IP [VoIP] telephony. If I’d gone into Mr. Blake’s office and proposed a major technology investment just to replace our existing PBX system with a VoIP system, the proposal never would have been accepted.”
Dunn and his colleagues identified the components of the broader communication and collaboration solution that they wanted. It had to encompass all mainstream forms of synchronous communication—telephony, instant messaging (IM), and audio and video conferencing. The solution had to integrate these forms of communication with a messaging system that included e-mail, voice mail, fax, and other asynchronous forms of communication. Because HarborOne collaboration typically revolved around documentation, a shared document management system had to be part of the solution.
And because credit union employees—such as loan-origination officers—often worked outside headquarters and even outside branches, the solution had to support mobile workers’ needs as well.
When HarborOne merged with Nations Heritage Federal Credit Union, HarborOne first planned to tie the acquisition’s two branches to the rest of the HarborOne voice network through traditional telephony. But Dunn and his colleagues did the math and the credit union balked at the approximate U.S.$1,000 per month cost of hardware and leased lines. Instead, they saw the two branches as the perfect environment in which to test the new solution for communication and collaboration that they envisioned.
Dunn and his HarborOne colleagues knew the only way to integrate the array of services that they envisioned under a unified communications umbrella was to build on a common infrastructure backbone. They chose the Active Directory Domain Service, a feature of the Windows Server operating system. The credit union’s IT staff was already familiar with Microsoft software, which facilitated the adoption of Active Directory. Plus, Active Directory could serve as the foundation for the broad range of unified communications tools available from Microsoft.
HarborOne started by replacing Novell Netware and Novell GroupWise with Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. (Upgrades to Windows Server 2008 and Exchange Server 2010 are planned.) The use of Exchange Server 2007 enables a unified messaging system in which voice mail and faxes, not only e-mail messages, appear in workers’ inboxes. Through the use of speech services in Exchange Server 2007, workers can hear both their voice-mail and e-mail messages—a particularly useful feature when workers are away from their computers and calling into the system from their Windows phones or other telephony devices.
The voice, presence, and conferencing capabilities of the unified communications solution are based on Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007. To deploy that technology in the two new branches—as well as the broader
||Internet telephony, by itself, doesn’t justify the cost of [a major technology] investment because it doesn’t include collaboration—as the Microsoft solution does.
Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, HarborOne
deployment planned for the HarborOne enterprise—the credit union turned to Avanade, a business technology services provider that offers expertise in Microsoft technologies to help enterprise customers. “Avanade had a track record of deploying Office Communications Server at enterprises such as ours,” Dunn says. “The consultancy brought not only the expertise that we needed but also the flexibility to work with us through whatever issues would arise during the development and deployment of our solution.”
Avanade, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, helped the credit union deploy a broad range of Office Communications Server 2007 capabilities—including VoIP, presence and chat, and audio and video conferencing—at the two test branches. The broader architecture encompassed these new technologies and the legacy telephony system that persisted through phase one of the migration.
Workers can access communications and collaboration technologies in many ways using the solution. For example, employees can use the Microsoft Office Outlook messaging and collaboration client and Outlook Web Access while traveling to access e-mail and voice mail. They can use Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 on their computers or on phone handsets running Office Communicator 2007 Phone Edition to make phone calls, check on the presence status of colleagues, and hold instant messaging conversations with those individuals. They can also use Microsoft Office Live Meeting—combined with webcams—for one-to-one or group Web conferencing.
Workers have access to these same communications and collaboration tools whether they’re connecting through the local network, communicating across the wide area network (WAN) from a branch, or operating from notebook computers over the Internet while at home or on the road.
The success of the test deployment is leading HarborOne to a phase two deployment that will extend Office Communications Server 2007 capabilities—particularly VoIP, presence and IM, and conferencing—to all employees.
To put document management and collaboration within easy reach of all employees, the credit union created an intranet based on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, and deployed it rapidly largely using out-of-the-box features. Role-based authorization, based on Active Directory, enables the credit union to protect data by ensuring that only authorized workers can see sensitive information.
Future plans involve upgrading to the Microsoft Office 2010 suite to take advantage of its enhanced functionality and interoperability.
For HarborOne, the benefits of unified communications and collaboration extend far beyond the narrow benefits of voice over IP. The advantages include greater cost savings and the ability to build effective pandemic and disaster recovery plans—as well as the potential for a more effective customer service call center.
Surpasses Basic VoIP
The interoperability of the Microsoft unified communications and collaboration technologies are what sold the business on the new solution, Dunn notes. “Internet telephony, by itself, doesn’t justify the cost of the investment because it doesn’t include collaboration—as the Microsoft solution does,” says Dunn.
For example, Dunn points to the ability to use VoIP together with presence and instant messaging to enhance customer service. “Branch staff may be working with a customer when a specialized question comes up,” Dunn says. “In the past, the manager or service representative would have placed a call to a colleague and left a message—promising the customer an answer later on. That reduces customer satisfaction and may jeopardize additional business. Now, the staff can see which specialists are available, send an instant message to get a quick answer, and proceed to service the customer.”
Those capabilities, along with the ability to take along a personal phone extension as a user moves from desktop to mobile computer, will be used by loan-origination officers who work remotely at sites such as a customer’s home or business. Their Tablet PCs are “mobile collaboration platforms,” according to Dunn. The officers can remain in telephone contact with members or colleagues from their remote sites, use presence and chat to expedite customer responses, and fill out electronic paperwork with members and then send those papers remotely to the relevant SharePoint site.
Workers can call or send an instant message to a colleague from within Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, documents created with the Microsoft Office 2007 suite, or a SharePoint site. Dunn notes that he often has Web chats with the credit union’s chief financial officer about spreadsheet data. When they wish, they can easily bring the vice president of finance into a three-way Web conversation. “We don’t have to meet in someone’s office or waste time leaving messages if someone’s unavailable,” Dunn says.
Saves More than $225,000 per Year
HarborOne immediately saw the financial benefit of unified communications by not having to support its acquired locations on the legacy phone system, Dunn says. And that’s the least of the savings that the credit union anticipates. When it replaces its legacy data lines with SIP Trunking that connects the Office Communications Server 2007 directly to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) through an advanced media gateway, those savings should increase to approximately $150,000 annually, says Dunn.
And these savings don’t come at the cost of availability or reliability. During scheduled uptime, the solution has shown 100 percent availability. “This is a solution that we can rely on—and we do,” Dunn notes.
The credit union expects to see additional benefits by replacing in-person meetings with Web conferencing. The elimination of weekly branch manager meetings, for example, which required managers and branch personnel to spend hours for training and meetings at headquarters, saves an estimated $75,000 to $100,000 annually in travel time, and time that is now available for customer service and sales, says Dunn.
Similarly, the credit union plans to replace its annual security training, which required all employees to travel to Brockton, with Web conferencing. “We’re just at the beginning of exploring how we can use Web conferencing for more cost-effective meetings, but we see it revolutionizing how we interact with each other,” says Dunn.
Serves as Foundation for Disaster Recovery Plans and New Call Center
One of the biggest benefits of a true unified communications solution is that it serves as the foundation for many of the other systems and solutions that the credit union needs, according to Dunn. For example, Web conferencing is an essential part of the credit union’s pandemic plan to mitigate exposure risk. Not only does the technology reduce the need for people to meet in a common physical space, but it also enables employees to continue to work from home if they need to tend to a family member who is ill.
Similarly, the employees’ ability to take their personal phone extensions to any locations from which they can log on to the network has value not just in pandemic situations but also in any disaster recovery situation. And Dunn envisions saving the money formerly allocated to rent traditional phone lines as a line of defense in the event of a disaster.
The credit union is considering a new call center solution, and Dunn says he expects that Office Communications Server 2007 will be a part of that solution too. “Office Communications Server gives us the flexibility to add call service representatives quickly when needed and to host them anywhere—at our site, at an outside firm, or in their own homes. And having presence and chat technology means the representatives are better equipped to service customers on a single call, instead of having to research a question and call them back.”
Extends Presence and Chat to “Trusted Partners”
HarborOne has already extended the use and benefits of unified communications beyond its enterprise to “trusted partners” including a system integrator and audit firm that use Office Communications Server 2007. By federating its system with theirs, HarborOne will enable its workers to see presence information for, and chat with, members of these vendor companies as though they were within the HarborOne enterprise.
“We will be able to work with our vendors more efficiently, more effectively,” says Dunn. “And that will give us more time to devote to servicing our customers.”
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