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Switching to an internet-based phone system

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When it decided to change its phone system, educational charity, Cumberland Lodge, turned to the internet for a solution.

Background

Cumberland Lodge is an educational charity in Windsor with a programme of events covering ethical, spiritual and topical issues. It hosts retreats, seminars and debates. Martin Newlan, deputy principal and bursar, spoke to Knowhow about its telecoms upgrade.

The issues we faced

One hurdle was the infrastructure of our offices. Staff are based in multiple buildings, of a traditional construction, with thick floors and walls unsuitable for phone and internet installations.

We had to gain assurances from the supplier that the system it recommended would be a good fit for our buildings and locations.

Another issue was the cost of investing in hardware. We had modified and upgraded our technology a number of times over the years.

Would it be worth investing in new equipment or should we rent it instead? And would it be cheaper in the longer term to rent equipment?

The Lodge operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Ideally, we wanted a supplier who would avoid interrupting our programme during the upgrade.

Our staff were concerned about changing the current systems. They wanted to be sure there would be no disruption to their work and the services they provide.

Staff were reluctant to change suppliers if this involved time consuming training in new technology that diverted them from their jobs.

Finally, our organisation had outgrown its existing communications infrastructure. We were coping by splitting phone ports because we had run out of space. This was affecting the quality of calls, slowing down our internet connection.

The actions we took

Cumberland Lodge decided on a hosted phone system that uses broadband instead of a traditional phone line. A single broadband connection can be used to handle multiple calls. 

We could keep our existing phone numbers and didn't have to pay for expensive handsets as these were included.

The largest supplier proved to be the most competitive, and the most flexible on price. We had to decide whether to base our decision on price or other factors such as word of mouth and supplier recommendations.

Positive outcomes

Upgrading technology and working with a new company can be risky. We found the following points useful in the process.

Researching potential suppliers. We looked at whether customers of the suppliers on our shortlist were happy.

We decided to choose Class Telecommunications to upgrade our phone and internet
connections and implement a hosted phone system.

Considering other factors than priceWe avoided basing the decision on cost alone. Class was not the cheapest but it came with additional benefits such as support and guidance at the specification stage. We saved money by leasing equipment and using Class’ hosted platform, and secure data centre, to manage phone calls.

Continuity of service. The Lodge did not suffer disruption, and we’ve had fewer complaints from staff and our clients since the upgrade.

The supplier made arrangements for emergency back-up. It worked with the Lodge and previous supplier to ensure a smooth transition.

Customer support. Staff issues were dealt with directly by the supplier, not by a third party. This alleviated fears about a new system because problems were dealt with promptly.

Negative outcomes

As with any major upgrade, unforeseen things happen. These are some of the issues we dealt with.

Resistance to change. Some staff were resistant to change as they had experienced   number of upgrades with varying degrees of success. There were concerns about getting to grips with new technology.

Short-term fixes. Over the years we had applied short-term fixes. Products were often incompatible, and this was contributing to problems. Our organisation had grown and we were working at full capacity. We now have the latest equipment from Class and if our organisation expands there are options available.

Modern technology in a not so modern building. We were limited by the location and structure of our buildings. We’re based in a listed building in a rural, remote location.

We had to recable our entire network, upgrading from copper to fibre cables. This was costly but necessary to support the new connections.

The cost was offset by call hosting and leasing equipment rather than buying it. We also benefit from inclusive monthly charges that are part of our service.

Lessons learnt

It’s worth exploring options you may think expensive or inappropriate as you might be surprised to find them feasible over the longer term.

In our situation, renting equipment, and using a hosted phone system, was a lot cheaper than options which we originally thought more viable.

Don’t shy away from new technology. Outsourcing to a hosted system with Class provided us with flexibility. We now add new users without additional expense. We have no ongoing maintenance costs and transparent billing allows us to track where we spend money.
Research suppliers. If you’re considering changing supplier, or an existing system, explore all options and speak to organisations similiar to your own and the customers of the suppliers you’re thinking about.

Look for recommendations such as accreditation from membership bodies or quality marks/standards. One reason why we chose Class is that it's an NCVO trusted supplier and we valued this recommendation. Class works mainly with charities and has a track record of implementing hosted systems for the voluntary sector.

What are your deal breakers? Understand what you need from suppliers and what you can’t compromise on. For Cumberland Lodge, we’re a 24 hour, seven day, operation and require services and support available at all times. We had to use a supplier we could trust and rely on to provide a continuous service while upgrading and improving our systems.

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Page last edited Oct 16, 2017

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