When the ELSA Corporation purchased their Siemens Hicom digital phone system in 1998, it was based on 1986 technology designed to last for 30 years. As voicemail technology became mainstream, they happily added an Avaya Octel component Voice Mail System to improve on communications. However, as they closed in on the end of that 30-year lifecycle of the Siemens system, the 1980s technology, regardless of how sophisticated it was then, may just as well have been a relic of the Dark Ages. In July 2015, ELSA, an automotive component manufacturer, experienced telecommunications enlightenment after replacing their telecom artifact with a Digium Switchvox Unified Communications (UC) solution, along with 150 new Digium HD VoIP phones.
Located in Elwood, Indiana, and with their parent company, Sakamoto, based in Japan, ELSA, LLC specializes in the fabrication and assembly of fuel tanks, exhaust systems, and structural components for OEM customers. However, even though the U.S. operation employs 425 workers and produces annual sales of $167,000,000, when they finally decided to upgrade their communications, there was no budget set aside for the phone system project.
The Dark Ages of Telecom Technology
Bob Bakehorn, ELSA Information Systems Group Leader, says the Hicom was decidedly inefficient and was costing the company a lot of money. “There were very few technicians still available to repair it, and when we finally found someone knowledgeable in Siemens telecom equipment, it cost $700 every time he walked through the door,” Bakehorn says. “You couldn’t buy new equipment, so all you could get was refurbished and even that was difficult to find.”
The Hicom system also had few features. “We had added the Octel Voice Mail component, but it had become outdated and you had to listen to every saved voicemail in order to get to the current message. A millennium bug messed up the date on voicemail and we were never able to fix it so no one knew what day or time a call came in, and there were simply some things we couldn’t do at all. For instance, we didn’t have Caller ID and that was very important. If you walked down the hall to the bathroom or to consult with a co-worker, when you got back to your office, people would say, ‘You had a call while you were gone,’ but you didn’t have any way of knowing who it was if they didn’t leave a message. It was very frustrating.”Bakehorn says to make matters worse common administrative tasks were extremely difficult. “Punching down phones was a nightmare because you had to trace the wiring back to the patch panel, which was all tangled and mislabeled most of the time.”
Switchvox Becomes the Great Discovery
Searching for a new communications system was a long process for Bakehorn. “I did a lot of research and contacted several different vendors, not knowing much about what was available.” ELSA first looked at a hosted solution with managed services, Without a backup Internet connection already in place, and since most of the calls are internal, Bakehorn eliminated the cloud-based phone system option. “We needed a replacement system we could administer from in-house, but without a budget and no idea what a new system would cost, I asked around for recommendations and did a lot of Internet research.”
Even before starting the selection process, Bakehorn knew there would be infrastructure upgrades required. ELSA had a data network, but because of the amount of existing traffic, they were advised not to add voice without upgrading the fiber. To get the best quality calls, it was worth the extra investment in the fiber network.
“We had a great deal of wiring and cabling that needed to be done, and several of the cabling companies who put in bids, also sold business phone systems. They asked to demo their product, so with all the recommendations and a follow-up call from Digium Switchvox reseller, Pinnacle Voice & Data, I went through eight or nine presentations and demos,” Bakehorn says. “Some of the proposed systems weren’t large enough to handle the 125 to 150 phones we needed. One of them was on the mark in terms of capability, but had monthly licensing fees per phone that, when calculated over a 10-year period, were $110,000 higher than Digium Switchvox.”
Bakehorn says Digium won the pricing battle easily but they also won on simplicity. “Digium’s licensing was very simple while others were hard to figure out. In order to get exact costs, other systems wanted to know specifically which users wanted what features, but I had no way to know that, and no one could show me a chart with comparisons. It really was very complicated.”
According to Bakehorn, building an IP network infrastructure was pricier than the phone system itself, but in spite of the cost of the build-out, Digium was still better on costs when compared to compatible systems. “You have to figure it over ten years because with some of the other systems, the upfront price looked cheap until you added those licenses. You pay a single annual license for Switchvox every year so it was the best cost and best fit for us.”
Switchvox & VoIP Bring ELSA into the 21st Century
In order to ease the transition from an antiquated phone system into Digium’s state-of-the-art VoIP business communications solution, Pinnacle was able to get ELSA’s new phones up and working prior to cutting over to the full system. Even though employees could only call internally and leave voicemail, and couldn’t call out or take outside calls until the final step, it was a convenient way of teaching the employees how to use the new system.
On the old system, ELSA had rotating operators who answered the phone. They also ran a second and third shift so they had to set the phones on night-ring after hours. It was practically impossible to call in and get an answer at that time. In addition, being a production facility, it was often difficult for the receptionist to track people down to take calls.
“We immediately saw that we could get the job done faster using the Switchvox IVR,” says Bakehorn. “Now the phones are set to automatically distribute calls to the proper department and if the caller needs the receptionist, they just dial zero for the receptionist’s queue. Outside of business hours, department supervisors can answer calls.”
Affordability was one of ELSA’s biggest requirements, and it needed to cover more thanthe phone system – it also had to include phones. As a production, molding, and assembly facility, ELSA needed IP phones that included some higher-end executive handsets; down on the floor and out in the rest of the plant, they wanted an economical alternative for phones. “It wouldn’t do to have a $400 phone set on the floor where they are often exposed to a harsh environment and where they are easily broken or can get wet,” Bakehorn says. The flexibility and affordability of Switchvox enabled them to buy a mix of IP phones to meet all the company’s needs, withouth breaking the budget.
Of all the benefits to the new Switchvox system, Bakehorn says they most appreciate caller ID, visual voicemail, and the company IVR. From an administrative standpoint, call reporting is also an excellent tool.
“If a call to the main system got dropped, hung-up on, or no one ever picked up, we used to have to determine whether it was worth a $700-plus tech call,” Bakehorn says. “If someone says that happens today, we can go into the call logs and find that call.” The company had a complaint like that recently and Bakehorn’s team was quickly able to verify that the cellphone from which the individual was calling from was dropping the call, not ELSA. Normally, the company would have had to pay a lot out of pocket for that service call (even if it wasn’t their phone system causing the problem). With easy access to call logs and the reliability of an updated system, the company can rest easy with fewer headaches and the bonus of less maintenance expenditures. Bakehorn says, “When you look at cost savings, it is things like that which add to the overall savings with Switchvox.”