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Milwaukee Art Museum
World-Class Museum Faces Common SMB Problem
While researching “big box” Voice-over IP (VoIP) options to replace their end-of-life digital Nortel, the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) received competitive bids from popular enterprise telecom providers, all of which stated that a budget of $150,000 was needed to upgrade their technology. However, when Milwaukee’s Munger Technical Services stepped in and suggested a Digium Switchvox business system with unified communications (UC)—a much more affordable option—the museum realized they could buy and implement an all-inclusive VoIP solution for much less than $150,000.
Winner of Milwaukee’s Pinnacle Awards for business excellence, the 341,000-square-foot Milwaukee Art Museum is famous for its graceful Quadracci Pavilion designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The museum’s impressive architectural design features a cathedral-like Windhover Hall; a vaulted 90-foot-high glass ceiling; the Reiman pedestrian suspension bridge that connects the museum to the City of Milwaukee; and the Burke Brise Soleil, a moveable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan that folds and unfolds twice daily.
Housing 30,000 works of art, and welcoming more than 400,000 visitors a year, the MAM was suffering from a common problem among small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). In spite of its status as a world-class art museum, Milwaukee’s oldest and most iconic architectural landmark was relying on 20-year-old digital technology to communicate, both internally and with the public.
Failed Upgrades Force Call for New System
Friends of the museum had purchased the Nortel many years prior, and the system had served them well. However, since Nortel filed for bankruptcy in 2009, support for the system had grown increasingly difficult to find. The legacy phone system was built on proprietary Nortel technology, which meant it had also become very expensive to maintain. To make things worse, the system crashed on multiple occasions, leaving the museum without phone service for as much as half a day while the IT director tried to find someone to get them up and running again.
The museum had tried several times to upgrade the Nortel service. At one point, they tried implementing Google Voice, giving them one phone number for all of the museum phones, which was tied to a person rather than to a device or a location. There were some perceived benefits of the phone service initially, including employees being able to send and receive text messages, and access voicemails on their phone, tablet, or computer without having to dial into the system. The advantages of Google Voice were short-lived and the museum’s staff realized they needed another option.
“The employees were excited at first and we had high hopes it would improve communications,” says Robert Munger, whose company, Munger Technical Services, is a preferred Digium partner and reseller in the Milwaukee area. “Those hopes were dashed however when we caught employees socking away the required headsets in a drawer, and just letting calls go to voicemail rather than plugging in their headsets every time they got a call.”
MAM Weighs the Options and Finds Switchvox the Perfect Solution!
Munger discussed at length the museum’s simple and straightforward needs and requirements with the museum’s chief experience officer, Praveen Krishnamurti, and his highly capable staff. “They had a highly technical view of their issues and were very tuned-in to telecom technology,” he says. “They had a budget and they knew more or less what they wanted. With that information, I knew Switchvox was the perfect solution for them.”
The MAM briefly considered a TDS Communications hosted system. Once it came down to the final two choices—a feature-rich Switchvox premises-based solution with its all-inclusive pricing and free upgrades, versus the hosted TDS system—the right choice quickly became clear. Switchvox was not only more affordable; it was a system that the museum’s small but highly capable in-house IT department could manage themselves.
“The museum complex consists of three buildings only a few blocks apart, two of which would be on the new Digium system,” says Munger. “They have just over 140 employees and we were able to use MAM’s existing PRI to create a hub from which all calls and communications were centralized. They purchased over 100 Digium high definition phone sets and four analog internal adapters (ATAs). We helped them update the data network to include voice, and although they could have kept their old switch, at more than $50,000 under budget, they decided to replace it, putting them ahead of the game while improving call quality.”
Bells and Whistles are More Important than Name Recognition
Sometimes there is a perception that large, well-known brands are the only way to go; but when you dig into their solutions and compare them against other equally established vendors out there, like Digium, it’s quickly realized that you are paying a lot more for the name only. That was the case for MAM. Krishnamurti admitted he wasn’t familiar with the Digium or Switchvox brands, and was pleasantly surprised to discover not only how viable the business phone systems were but the affordability of the solutions, especially compared to other, larger vendors. What he liked after experiencing a demo of the Switchvox system for a few days was its flexibility, ease of use, scalability for future growth, compatibility with many other components and software, and the convenience of not having to worry about buying new software or equipment when upgrades were needed.
For Munger, the project was an opportunity to demonstrate the power of Switchvox to a client and reinforce the strength of the Digium brand against other, more costly vendors.
“Here was my opportunity to not only tout Switchvox’s benefits and advantages over more expensive systems, but a major worldwide institution like the Milwaukee Art Museum was choosing Switchvox over bigger, familiar brands. I knew that was good not just for MAM, but it was good for Switchvox as well!”
“We were used to a minimal set-up, and even now we are not using all the Switchvox features to its maximum capacity because we had such a short window in which to replace the old system,” says Krishnamurti. “We got on the new system easily and quickly and we didn’t really take the time to delve into all the features, but we are currently looking at implementing mobile apps and mobile extensions. We all like that we no longer have to dial in to retrieve voicemail like we did before, and the IVR is a new addition that helps us distribute and manage calls.”
Of course, the financial aspects are significant as well. With a budget of $150,000, the MAM completed the Digium Switchvox implementation, including the upgrades to the network and all the needed equipment for under $100,000, which was $50,000 under budget for the telephony project.