Hurricanes are looming offshore, threatening coastline dwellers across the lower United States. After last year's mismanaged Katrina nightmare, the American Red Cross is at the ready, having deployed a hosted IP-based call center that will keep in close touch with its emergency workers in the field.
Verizon Business is providing the Red Cross with an advanced Contact Center Service solution, including hosted automatic call distribution (ACD) services, to help the Red Cross improve its emergency response for disaster victims. Equipping emergency workers with IP phones means Verizon Business can route calls between field workers and Red Cross disaster relief agents located anywhere in the U.S.
In addition to the advanced call routing solution, Verizon Business is providing the Red Cross with wide area network connectivity, managed network services, toll-free enhanced call routing, an interactive voice response service, contact center professional services, and customer premise equipment (CPE).
For the Red Cross, lessons learned from Katrina revealed that they needed a system that was flexible and would provide the communication they needed to quickly assist people affected by disasters, whether hurricanes, earthquakes or avian flu.
"The key factor for us was [whether we really needed] to invest in these core skills ourselves. For us, many external solutions can augment things that we need for limited periods of time," said Malcolm Welch, executive director of client services at the American Red Cross. "There are 10 months out of the year when we have no need for Verizon's voice services. During critical periods, hosting creates a more judicious use of our people and time."
The Red Cross has guidelines for when to turn on the service. For something very significant, like Katrina, the nonprofit organization learned that a solution that could be implemented and -- depending on need -- ratcheted up at a moment's notice was the way to go.
"We made a commitment to the general public that we would be more prepared for large-scale disasters," Welch said. "Part of that means what we do in our day-to-day environment has to be designed to scale up quickly."
The Red Cross is a dramatic example of an environment ideal for the flexibility of a hosted VoIP, but these services are finding a need among enterprises across the board.
According to Yankee Group, more than 50% of enterprise respondents in a recent survey called "The Hosted Opportunity" said they believe a hosted VoIP environment would meet their needs in the areas of lower capital costs, remote access, multi-site networks, technology refresh and scalability. Slightly less (more than 40%) weighed in with security, lower cost of refresh, control and manageability as reasons that a hosted solution better meets their needs.
"Unlike traditional voice, where stuff gets upgraded every seven years, when you think of how fast software changes, that happens every six months," said Zeus Kerravala, a Yankee Group analyst. "The rate of change in telephony in the next five years is going to be exponentially higher than it was in the last five years and that means enterprises which use hosted voice don't have to make sure the latest and greatest features are there and the bugs are worked out. These companies can let the provider work that out. Ultimately, it gives them more features at lower cost."
Another Verizon Business user, minor league baseball team Staten Island Yankees, turned to hosted VoIP to avoid the tedious practice of removing phone lines and users to streamline operations during the off season, only to add them back again before the season opener.
Rather than purchasing equipment and bolstering its IT staff with telephony expertise, the organization went with Verizon Business's Hosted IP Centrex solution. Verizon Business's converged VoIP network enables the Staten Island Yankees to streamline voice, data and Internet connections over one network. Converged access provides the bandwidth to accommodate the high-traffic period without the expense associated with excess capacity during the off season.
In addition, Web-based administrative functions streamlined the process of adding new phones and users. The process has become the simple task of logging on to the Hosted IP Centrex Web interface and typing in the new user's name, extension and other details.
When it comes to hosted VoIP services, there are several providers in addition to Verizon Business, including IBM Global Services, Avaya, AT&T, Bellsouth and Accenture.
Whether it is a carrier-based provider that owns the network, such as Verizon Business and AT&T, or a specialized VoIP company such as Avaya, the prospects for enterprise users deploying hosted VoIP services are that they will save money and benefit from simplicity.
According to Will Stofega, research manager of VoIP services at IDC, outsourcing your VoIP makes sense for companies of all sizes.
"What [hosted voice services] bring is a hands-off approach to telephony," Stofega said. "If you are thinking about telephony, there is a steep learning curve: security, codex, latency, delay. A hosted service takes that out of your cost structure. You pay one set fee for a certain amount of licenses and you're ready to go. You don't have to [be concerned] that after eight to nine years you'll have to worry about how to look at this in terms of hardware and maintenance upgrades."