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Outsourced VoIP helps devastated company recover

Outsourced VoIP helped a Berkeley company keep up business as usual after a fire destroyed its offices.

Outsourced VoIP came in clutch for Cool Systems Inc. after their Berkeley, Calif., offices were ravaged by fire and left in a smoldering pile of rubble.

On the evening of July 1, 2005 -- the start of Independence Day weekend -- flames tore through Cool Systems Inc., which operates as Game Ready, a company that makes medical devices to accelerate recovery from sports-related injuries.

"We couldn't salvage anything," said Cool Systems vice president Marty Reed.

The fire not only destroyed the physical building, but corporate phones were destroyed, melted beyond saving. For Cool Systems, answering calls is central to business. Sales calls, customer questions and other phone-related business are important components.

Luckily, not long before the fire, Cool Systems chose an outsourced, hosted VoIP system from CallTower, Reed said. CallTower handles many of Cool Systems' voice and data needs, such as call routing, voicemail, 800 numbers, call center and Internet. Reed said he was able to log onto CallTower's Web site and select where incoming calls should be routed. He personally had calls forwarded to his home. For other needs, a quick call to CallTower helped the "speedy and flexible adjustments." If customers called and got a voicemail, it was the same voicemail system they would've accessed before the fire.

"All of our phones had been destroyed," Reed said. "Because all of our calls come through CallTower, our voice system never went down."

Cool Systems had an extended holiday weekend to get things back on track. That year, July 4 fell on a Monday. With a few service and support calls and some adjustments in CallTower's Web interface, most business-related calls to Cool Systems were rerouted to employees' home and cell phones, meaning that customers calling in would have no clue the building had burned to the ground -- unless, of course, they saw the massive amount of news coverage of the fire.

"From a customer perspective, it was business as usual," Reed said. "Our customer service was literally sitting in the parking lot of a no-longer-standing building answering calls. We were sitting in lawn chairs. The concept of a virtual office was taken to a new height at that point."

A few days later, Cool Systems was in a new office space. It took less than a week to be back up and fully operational.

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"Our fire was public," Reed said, noting the enormous news coverage. "Being able to show the world that Tuesday morning, 'No, we're up and running,' was great for us. Our company could've been destroyed. If we had not had data and voice backups, we might not have even tried to bring the company back."

Overall, Reed said, Cool Systems' business took a small hit in July, but the growth and momentum the company started to see before the fire resumed a short time later.

Cool Systems had been with CallTower for about 18 months prior to the fire. Before that, the company had a traditional TelRad phone system with an in-house server. Had a fire occurred under the old system, the cost to replace and fix would have been astronomical, Reed said -- not to mention the time it would've taken to reprogram the server and add the new phones.

The biggest lesson of the fire, according to Reed, was the need to have an iron-clad business interruption plan in place. He said there's no way to plan for disasters such as the fire, but having a plan in place to enable an impromptu off-site office unbeknownst to a customer is imperative.

"There's no question that I will continue to use outsourced solutions in the future," Reed said. "It's invaluable."

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