Start-up uses Lync to keep employees connected through global expansion
Published: November 2011
A Dublin start-up has expanded into six countries in just five years, keeping the ethos of the company consistent with the help of
next-generation communications. Not only has it grown up
without a traditional telephone system, it has learnt how to collaborate across continents
Set up in 2006, Ezetop enables people living or working abroad to instantly top up the mobile phones of friends and family back home. It has proved to be one of those simple ideas that tap into a market opportunity with astonishing speed. Three employees became 15 by 2008, located in Dubai and Miami as well as the Dublin headquarters. A year later there were forty people and new offices in Dhaka (Bangladesh), Guatemala (Central America) and Barcelona (Spain).
Today, it’s a robust international business employing 120 people in six countries. Ezetop services are available online and from more than 300,000 retail outlets around the world. More than 180 international mobile operators are directly connected to its network with more added each month, giving the company a footprint that covers Asia Pacific, Africa, the Caribbean, Central/Latin America and Eastern Europe.
Fast growth presented a number of business challenges, particularly around communications infrastructure. As Ezetop set up in different parts of the world it was essential that the ethos of the business travelled with its growing band of employees, and that a business model based on high volume and small margin could be successfully executed in the different locations.
Telephony solutions bought in for the first wave of growth were struggling to keep up. The original PBX (Private Branch Exchange) was too expensive to scale up so a second system was bought to connect the outlying offices. “It was a hotchpotch with many people looking at two phones on their desks and trying to work out which one to use,” said Jim Carr, Chief Technology Officer at Ezetop. “We were constantly patching new elements on to them and they were expensive to maintain. It was all very cumbersome and becoming a barrier to growth.”
Voice calls were not the only frustration. Web conferencing and remote collaboration were difficult because employees were relying on disjointed technologies that made spontaneous online meetings almost impossible.
When Ezetop grew too big for its Dublin headquarters and planned a move to bigger offices, Carr saw the opportunity to invest in a communications platform that would keep up with the business.
Ezetop is built on Microsoft products, from backend servers and databases to a suite of Office tools that touch every business process in every department. Jim Carr describes Ezetop as “Microsoft to the core” and saw in Microsoft Lync Server 2010 a product that could meet the company’s communication needs while integrating easily into the IT environment. It was the seamless integration with existing products that made it so valuable to employees so quickly.
The migration was entrusted to Unity Technology Services, a Microsoft Enterprise Partner with a strong track record in communications and convergence. Stephen Black, Head of Operations at Unity, recognised that Ezetop was a company ready for Lync. “They wanted to standardise on to a single PBX while building on the functionality that a traditional phone system can deliver,” he said. “And they wanted much greater integration with their existing Microsoft applications.”
Lync offers the full suite of Unified Communications to every employee, anytime, anywhere. Features like Instant Messaging and Presence (for identifying who is contactable and how) are accessible through Microsoft Outlook and SharePoint and other Microsoft Office applications. Voicemail is accessed through the email inbox, for example, and all contacts are sourced from the same place. Because everything is so closely integrated, with a single click Lync can be used to escalate a phone call to an online conference to collaborate over video and share desktops. And pulling in additional people is as easy as dragging and dropping contacts.
For Ezetop and a growing number of companies, Lync was chosen to be a full-blown PBX replacement. Trusting telephony to a new solution might be seen as cutting edge – voice is still the most critical form of communication in most businesses – but the migration proved seamless.
Unity ensured that the deployment took place over the course of one weekend, according to Carr. “We literally powered down the old office on a Friday and walked into the new one on a Monday. It worked from day one,” he said.
Now employees use a mix of IP telephones and softphones on their laptops to make all their internal and external voice calls.
By addressing communication and collaboration needs with an integrated suite of products, Microsoft is changing the way organisations work. With its deployment of Lync, Ezetop took it even further, facilitating international expansion while maintaining core company values.
“Any company that experiences rapid growth risks creating isolated teams that feel disconnected from the wider organisation. It’s easy to set up an overseas office but the hard part is doing it in a way that lets employees communicate seamlessly,” said Carr. “We had started to have knowledge silos, people in one part of the business not knowing what was going on elsewhere. Lync helped us solve that.”
Company employees use Lync to instantly strike up conversations or hold ad hoc meetings, regardless of whether people are on the road, at home, or working alone in an office on the other side of the world. The system also handles the high number of support calls that drive the business in every territory, and local customers always have a local number to ring.
Voice over IP telephony saves the company money, enabling people to making interoffice calls with three digit extensions rather than going out over the public telephone network. Calls are free to anywhere in the world. .
Managing and maintaining Lync is easier and cheaper for the Ezetop’s IT department because it is already familiar with Microsoft products. Built-in integration eliminates the patching problems that plagued the two previous telephone systems and has significantly reduced maintenance costs.
Employees are used to working in a Microsoft Windows environment which means Lync and Unified Communications were rolled out with little or no extra training. “It’s very intuitive. If you can use Outlook you can use Lync,” said Stephen Black. “It’s got the Microsoft look and feel, so there is a minimal amount of training required.”
Ezetop has still to make the cultural leap to using Lync’s full video capability. Right now, sharing desktops and presentations is seen as more important than face-to-face, but the plan is to leverage the nine screen video wall in the Dublin HQ, pulling all the global offices together with a connection running over Lync.
Convergence of IT and communications was one of the big trends in the last decade that reaches a tipping point with Microsoft Lync. It brings the traditional world of telephony into the IT department, treating voice as another application among the suite of Unified Communications tools. This is good for businesses of all size as Ezetop can testify.
The company’s growth trajectory shows no sign of slowing down, thanks in part to Lync which plays a valuable role in helping employees communicate across an expanding global footprint. “It is imperative that our technical team is able to meet with our commercial team across different geographies,” said Carr. “They need to be able to discuss strategies for bringing on board new operators. We aim to integrate 20 or more new operators every quarter. Currently, we are looking at new opportunities in Russia and China.”
Carr has no doubt that Lync is playing a pivotal role. “We have really taken to it and it has given us competitive advantage. As we enter a new phase of growth, we see it as a critical enabler.”
Unity Technology Solutions
Ezetop sells mobile top ups online and though a global retail chain
Rapid global growth exposed the inadequacies of the existing telephone systems and the need for a new platform to keep the company connected
Microsoft Lync was used as a PBX replacement and Unified Communications platform
Seamless connectivity combined with easy integration into the company’s Microsoft environment transformed communications, saved money, and helped Ezetop sustain rapid global growth
Microsoft Lync Server 2010
Microsoft Windows Server 2008
Microsoft Windows 7 Professional
Microsoft Office 2010
Microsoft Exchange 2010
Microsoft SharePoint 2010
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2010
Microsoft Dynamics GP 2010
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