Shulmans is a award-winning Leeds based commercial law firm which was founded in 1981 and serves all sectors of the business world. The firm is driven to achieve the best possible results for its strong client base, using its depth, expertise and flexibility to provide clients with a reliable, cost-effective, partner-orientated service. As Chairman and founder Jeremy Shulman puts it, "Our clients deserve the best and that is what we always try to deliver. Anything less will simply not do."
Shulmans previous phone system supported a mix of analogue, digital and IP lines, and was not even using basic facilities like voicemail and caller display. The system also had numerous different handsets and was extremely unreliable, as IT Manager Ross MacIntyre explains:
"Every two or three weeks we'd have an issue that needed fixing, so it was a real pain. We were using a third party supplier for support, but even though we paid a maintenance fee they were always trying to sell us extra things to fix issues! Having all the different lines and handsets was also a concern, as every time someone moved we had to physically re-patch a phone in, so it was a bit of a nightmare. It was obvious that we needed to change as the functionality was severely lacking, and I knew from previous experience and from research that there was so much more we could get out of a new phone system."
A full RFP process was carried out across several providers and Ross also spoke to contacts at Westcom Networks, which supplies Shulmans' firewall solution, to get their opinion. Westcom suggested that he consider ipcortex and so the VoIPCortex Pro IP PBX was also included in the RFP process. Ross goes into more detail about what he was looking for and why he chose ipcortex:
"We knew we wanted an IP system, but more than anything I just wanted to get rid of the two different cables, the two different floor ports, all the patching and so on! I knew it was the way forward. We had a network infrastructure that could cope with it in place already, so it was a no brainer really.
We chose the ipcortex solution because it gave us the most functionality for our budget. As a smaller SME, it didn't make economic sense to go out and buy proprietary technology but it did made sense to buy smart, open technology from a UK based company, that did pretty much everything that we wanted to do and a little bit more. And at the right price."
The new solution has 115 extensions and uses Polycom IP450 handsets with HD Voice. Most notably, it actually uses two VoIPCortex Pro IP PBXs which are set up in a high availability configuration. This synchronises both units in a heartbeat mechanism to ensure that if one becomes unavailable, then there is another that can continue to allow users to make calls, view call logs and pick up voicemails and call recordings within seconds.
Ross and the team started setting up the new handsets the week before the switch-over, as well as putting in the necessary Power over Ethernet switches. They also held awareness sessions in the boardroom, which included setting up a 10 handset test system for people to try out.
"The test system really helped," continues Ross, "as we were able to show people basic functionality such as dial and in dial out, how to transfer calls and so on. People were using old system until 6pm on the Friday, then we swapped everything over at the weekend and when people came in on the Monday they were on the new system. It was great, it just worked and was completely seamless.
We've not had any real support issues - just a few people asking how to do things, but no major problems at all. The user base saw the leap forward we've made with all the new functionality and they were suitably impressed - there was certainly appetite for it within the business."
Simple day to day management
The new system is far easier to manage than the old one, making moves, adds and changes extremely simple to implement. From Ross's perspective, having one type of handset across the whole business was also a major step forward, and the thing that he liked about the ipcortex solution was that he was not restricted on choice of handset, allowing him to choose the technology which suited the firm best, as he explains:
"Previously we had numerous different types of handset, so there were many ways to transfer calls, for example - which was very difficult for new starters. We also had to maintain lots of sets of documentation. What we now have is just one set of documentation and one easy way for users to do things. The admin is much less painful than before and we spend far less time managing and updating the system, which makes the associated cost far lower as well."
Useful features and functionality
With the previous system being so limited, even things like voicemail and audio conferencing were new to Shulmans, as was having handsets which can be operated using context sensitive screens - whereas before, they did not even have caller display. These types of features are making a huge difference to the business already, as is the inbuilt call recording functionality which is especially useful for a legal firm. Other features which are also adding value include the audio conferencing facility, and the ease with which things like speed dials and call queuing can be managed.
"The main thing that swung it for us was the amount of functionality that we got for the price," continues Ross. "The call queuing, for example, was a really good one for us. We have an informal call centre environment which receives more than 500 calls a day, and the fact that we can put all of the call queues onto a visual wallboard is extremely useful."
High availability (HA)
The solution is based upon a pair of identical synchronised VoIPCortex IP PBX systems units which are configured to take over from each other in the event of a failure. With the old system being so unreliable, staff and customers had actually got used to the fact that the system went down regularly, but this was not a situation which could be allowed to continue, as Ross explains:
"If you're taking 500 calls a day in one of your departments, then that could be 500 people getting a negative impression if the system fails. It's one of the key things that we wanted to address, and the high availability solution was all part of that. It would have been preferable for us to have HA no matter what the solution was, but it was a question of economics. With ipcortex we were able to include HA because it wasn't as expensive as other solutions we looked at, which was a real benefit. We were able to buy that resiliency for the same price as a standard solution might have cost from another supplier and that was a key part of our decision as well."
The new solution also includes resilience in terms of external connectivity, as it is connected via both ISDN30e and by SIP Trunks. If an ISDN line goes down, the VoIPCortex PBX simply switches seamlessly to using the SIP Trunks, with users not affected at all. This also gives Shulmans the option to move to a full SIP-based solution in the future.
"The failover we already have is a really good feature," adds Ross. "But we plan to switch completely in the next two years, and now we have the kit to support that. Because we'll have already been using SIP for failover, we will be able to complete the migration process when we know that our confidence and comfort levels are there, and it's a suitable time to move on to the next level. That's very appealing, as are the cost savings."
Customer service benefits
One of the key benefits for Shulmans' customers has been the improvement in the call centre functionality. The firm is governed by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, and whilst there are no specific regulations for phone systems, the Authority operates what it calls 'outcomes focused regulation' and one of the outcomes which Shulmans has to achieve is 'a high level of client care'.
With the VoIPCortex IP PBX in place, inbound calls are now handled more efficiently and there is far more transparency around the performance of the people who are handling those calls, as Ross concludes:
"We get daily reports showing who is answering how many calls, what the average wait time is and so on. We work to SLAs for our clients, and now we now have the intelligence to make sure we are keeping to these. Something as simple as the wallboard means that supervisors can look up and see if there all calls queuing and yet people available. It's that simple. The new system makes it better for customers as we are able to answer more calls and deal with people's enquiries more quickly.
We've been really pleased with the whole experience, and the 'hand holding' and attention we got from ipcortex, and from Westcom, was first rate. In summary, we think you've got great products and that you're a great company!"
Project overview and benefits
- Two VoIPCortex Pro IP PBXs in a high availability configuration
- 115 extension system
- ISDN connectivity with SIP Trunk failover
- Fully-featured Polycom IP handsets
- Support for informal inbound call centre
- Simple management and administration
- Almost limitless choice of IP handsets
- Visual wallboard for informal call centre
- Call recording for legal compliance
- Fully-featured yet cost effective solution