A Business VOIP Case Study
Camden National Bank (CNC) is one of the largest banks in Maine, employing over 400 people in 37 branches throughout the state. Like many of the larger banks operating in Maine, CNC achieved much of its growth though acquisition. When the bank acquired Union Trust in 2007 and Acadia Trust back in 2001, CNC also acquired 9 disparate Avaya systems and Nortel systems to combine with their own legacy NEC system. As a result, by the beginning of 2009, Chris Nolan, Senior Technology Officer, and his team of nine (9) internal IT professionals had over 40 different telephone systems to administer in addition to their other IT responsibilities.
“We could not take the pain any longer,” said Nolan to a group of 75 IT professionals assembled for an April 2010 Maine Technology Users Group (MTUG) meeting. Dropped business calls had become routine with the first generation business VOIP system then in place, and greeting messages were inconsistent across the footprint. “The standard operating procedure at CNC had become ‘obtain the customers telephone number early in the call’ just in case of a dropped call.” Obviously, such a situation was no longer tenable.
To begin the process of upgrading and integrating the bank’s telecommunications systems to a more robust business VOIP solution, Nolan and his team hired an independent telecom consultant to assess CNC’s needs and to formulate an initial Request for Information (RFI). The RFI allowed the bank to understand currently available technology platforms and to begin to assess the operational and regulatory impact of a $1.5 million upgrade to the bank’s telecommunications systems.
From the RFI, the bank and its consultant prepared a comprehensive Request for Proposal (RFP), the results of which were scored on a detailed matrix to assure the best results for the bank and to satisfy regulators in the event of an audit. CNC’s strategic objectives included the installation of a Unified Communications (UC) system that provided call quality, stability, redundancy, maximum functionality and minimal end-user interference – in a tight timeframe.
“After we had scored all the proposals, it came down to Avaya or Cisco Unified Communications,” said Nolan. “Cisco was interesting because they had the advantage of proposing to upgrade the routers as part of the proposal. Both proposals were within budget, but we concurrently decided to upgrade our video conferencing capabilities, so Cisco and their local partner, Systems Engineering, won the contract.”
To satisfy the bank’s needs, Nolan and his team installed a Cisco Unified Communications platform and migrated from a single point call center location to three main call processing centers with rollover redundancy. A Cisco Unified Call Center Express (UCCX) was implemented for all call queues so that bank personnel could answer the phone at any location within the bank’s extended network. Call Center Express allowed Customer Service representatives to help with call volume overflow, another huge benefit for business continuity and disaster recovery. Additionally, the ability to administer the phone system from any location within the bank was particularly advantageous for the IT staff, who often work remotely, by extending help desk availability to wherever members of the team might be.
In assessing the success of the bank-wide Unified Communications upgrade, Nolan emphasized the importance of having senior management support for this strategic initiative. “For me, this project was a ‘bet the paycheck’ kind of thing. I absolutely needed the full support of the senior management team to implement this enormous project.”
Nolan also pointed to the following contributors to the success of the installation:
- CNC selected a strong technology manufacturer in Cisco with great local support from Systems Engineering.
- Vendor partners were committed to working together to make sure this tightly regulated company made the right choices and had the right standards with adherence to stringent security measures, including NIST standards on all devices
- With over 2,000 telephone numbers, telecom carrier support was critical for cutting over to the new system as well as to providing a stable, redundant voice over IP network
- Teamwork and a strong, flexible plan allowed CNC to complete the project within 9 months from start to finish.
With hindsight, what might Nolan have done differently? CNC elected to go with 4-digit extensions throughout the footprint, and Nolan wondered whether or not the bank should have gone with a 5-digit call plan to allow for future growth at the time for the upgrade.
The decision to do the video conferencing upgrade also resulted in additional expense for the bank, but it is already starting to pay dividends with reduced executive travel. Nolan also pointed to a recent loan closing in Portland that was completed remotely.
“The benefits of the new Cisco Unified Communications platform far outweighed the pain of converting to the new system,” said Nolan. “By operating as my own general contactor and utilizing both internal and external resources, we were able to maximize our budget and distribute the workload.”
The Unified Communications initiative was a strategic IT success for Camden National Corp. with a number of key lessons learned for similarly situated organizations:
- As a publicly traded financial services company, Camden National Corp. (CNC) adhered to a stringent due diligence process to address security and compliance issues associated with a branch-wide upgrade to their telecommunications systems.
- CNC’s strategic objectives included the installation of a business VOIP system that provided call quality, stability, redundancy, maximum functionality and minimal end-user interference – in a tight timeframe.
- A Request for Information (RFI) process helped the bank understand the available technology options and served as an initial building block in the due diligence process.
- By thinking long-term, CNC pursued a technology platform that would serve the bank’s telecommunications needs for the next decade.
- The presence of a reliable, disaster recovery tested wide area network (WAN) with redundancy was a fundamental building block for the upgrade.
- Senior management support for the strategic IT initiative was critical to achieving this strategic IT initiative.
- CNC selected a strong manufacturer (Cisco Systems) with a strong local partner (Systems Engineering) who installed the system, trained users and provided ongoing support to the organization.
- By selecting a ubiquitous system (Cisco Unified Communications), the bank enhanced the available support structure (internally and externally) after installation.
- Working as a general contractor for the project, the CIO was able to utilize both internal and external resources to maximize the technology budget.
- Assessing the need of 4-digit versus 5-digit internal calling is critical at the outset of the project depending upon employment growth projections.