[ Johannesburg, 18 September 2008 ] – As an early adopter of the technology which for years has been the talk of the town, the Roodepoort-headquartered Clover looked to ECN to provide it with a solution to reduce its monthly telephone bill – and has reaped annual savings which run into millions of Rands.
That the business of dairy can run up such enormous telephone bills may come as something of a surprise, until one realises that Clover runs most of its sales through an outbound call centre. With a monthly telephone bill of upwards of half a million Rand, this cost to the company presented an ideal opportunity to improve efficiency as new communications technology entered the market, agrees Willie Maritz, senior network specialist at Clover.
Back in 2005, relates Maritz, the company was looking for a better deal than what was on offer from the incumbent fixed line operator. “We have a call centre with some 120 agents, mostly making outbound calls. Our call costs at that time were very large, and with the company on a cost-cutting drive, there appeared to be a good opportunity to make substantial reductions in our telephone bill,” he says.
However, continues Maritz, whilst savings were important we were not prepared to compromise on call quality. “ECN approached us and claimed they could reduce our telephone bill and deliver carrier grade voice quality. We were a little sceptical at first, especially since there were some teething problems in the beginning, however once ECN had overcame these, we soon started to see the benefits,” he says.
Andy Openshaw, chief commercial officer at ECN, points out that where telecoms networks are concerned, call quality and reliability is something that cannot be compromised. “It is all well and good to demonstrate a reduction in call costs, but if the calls being made by the salespeople are unintelligible, sales will suffer. That is just not an answer,” he says.
Explaining how the Clover solution works, Openshaw says ECN has provided a dedicated circuit into the company’s Roodepoort campus. “When we first moved into Clover, Least Cost Routing [LCR] was in its peak; like many other companies Clover had some Premicells in place. ECN’s solution is based on a next generation network model that uses IP to backhaul traffic to a central point where it is handed over to the incumbent networks via certified SS7 trunks; unfortunately the early model had to use some of the existing on-site LCR equipment, which caused the initial problems,” he says.
Contingencies In Place
Agreeing that it was something of a bold move to be among the first customers for a solution that involves a service as critical as telephone communications, Maritz says Clover made sure of contingency plans, especially in the initial stages. “Our call centre provides an essential function for the company, with around 80% of our orders being done through this facility and on the phone,” he notes.
When deploying ECN’s VoIP solution, therefore, Maritz says full redundancy was assured with the ‘traditional’ PABX kept in operation while configuration and problem-solving was taking place; to this day, the PABX remains as an overflow solution and a failover should an IP-link go down.
“In the first 3 to 4 months, we had ECN engineers regularly on site and sorting out problems with dropped calls and call quality,” says Maritz. “However, we remained committed and ECN kept at it to get the system right. As a consequence, we reaped the rewards, both then and now. We have also seen continual improvement, to the point that there are now absolutely no issues with call quality,” he says.
Of course, getting the solution to work properly is a great achievement, especially considering that this was 2005 and VoIP was still something considered as-yet unworkable for most companies. What is all the more impressive is the almost instantaneous savings which Clover started to see in its phone bills. “Once the system was up and running, we saw a dramatic drop in costs. Bills were reduced by up to 35%,”confirms Maritz.
That translates to monthly savings in the order of hundreds of thousands of Rands. Surely, then, the price paid by Clover for this expertise and a new system must be similarly impressive in its magnitude? Not so, says Openshaw. “There are no upfront fees for the customer as all equipment and backhaul costs are deducted from savings. In effect, it costs the customer nothing to deploy the ECN VoIP solution.”
From an initial relatively small installation which nevertheless powers a missioncritical component of its business, Clover is looking to extend its use of the ECN VoIP solution. Clover has currently deployed the solution in its 6 largest branches which covers approximately 80% of total telephony spend. “To date, we have only done our major branches but have implementations planned for a further 28 branches,” he says.
Maritz says other technologies like LCR and Premicells have come and gone. “That technology is gone and forgotten. VoIP is the way to go.
Maritz heartily recommends VoIP, even for mission-critical applications. “Most certainly. With no problems over the last two years and with a supplier which has demonstrated that it will do what it takes to make it work, there can be no question that VoIP has delivered valid value to Clover over the term.”
A Solution For The Future
While cost saving were the primary driver for Clover, Openshaw confirms that VoIP is a solution for the future. “Over and above cost savings, companies looking at converged voice and data networks can look at gaining the benefit of the ‘triple play’ of a single infrastructure for all communication needs – voice, video and data,” he says. “The underlying technology such as that used in ECN’s platform is mature and is in use by many South African companies which are enjoying savings of around 40% across the board. In Clover’s case, that translates to a substantial bottom line saving per year.