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Mon 23 Jan 2006 04:00 AM

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Forward Thinking

The regional office of distributor Tech Data has upgraded its telephone system, moving from an Avaya platform to a Cisco IP call centre solution that, the company claims, will give it much more flexibility for expansion.

|~|Vardhan,-Vishnu-200.jpg|~|“Tech Data as an organisation is growing 30% year-on-year in the region, and we want to ensure that any system we buy is scaleable. And should the PTT companies open up IP telephony at some point, we want to be ready with the technology so we can immediately start leveraging its benefit.” Vishnu Vardhan, IS director at Tech Data.|~|The regional office of distributors Tech Data last year changed its telephone system, moving to a Cisco IP call centre solution. The decision has seen Tech Data’s Dubai-based call centre, which handles all of the company’s Middle East business, move from the traditional PABX Avaya telephone system, based on a Nortel platform, to Cisco’s Converged IP Communications solution.

According to Vishnu Vardhan, Tech Data’s information systems director and responsible for all IT and systems deployment and maintenance, there were some limitations with the old system. “There were some limitations with our previous system, it was a pretty old technology and we had some challenges in terms of growing it. We also had some issues of business continuity risks, because if the system breaks down we cannot wait for more than two hours to get it fixed.”

Tech Data put forward a Request for Proposal document, primarily to see what the shortcomings with the current system were, and see what where it could benefit from IP technology.

“The critical factor for us was the customer accessibility. We want to ensure that customers can reach us at any point in time. We did a pretty good exercise, producing a document which we circulated among a lot of IP telephone companies.” Tech Data finally narrowed down the suppliers. “We finally narrowed it down to two companies, Avaya and Cisco. Avaya is some sort of standard across Tech Data worldwide.”

For Vardhan, simplicity was the key. “As a company we wanted a technology that is less complex to manage because we know there is a lot of support required and we cannot have dedicated engineers managing this equipment. We want some with a little knowledge of administration to be able to manage.” This was one key factor in choosing Cisco, says Vardhan. “It is less complex in terms of managing.”

Scalability was another decisive player in the decision. “Tech Data as an organisation is growing 30% year-on-year in the region, and we want to ensure that any system we buy is scaleable. And should the PTT companies open up IP telephony at some point, we want to be ready with the technology so we can immediately start leveraging its benefit.”

Cisco could also offer Tech Data an end-to-end offering, something that fitted in line with Vardhan’s one-vendor approach. “The third most important factor, which came up many times during the evaluation, is the one-vendor approach, procuring everything related to IP telephony from one vendor. From Cisco’s standpoint, we had Cisco offering complete equipment, starting from the infrastructure required and the IP telephony products.” Tech Data hasn’t gone outside of Cisco for its IP telephony needs. Vardhan admits that with some of the legacy vendors who have turned to IP technology, from an infrastructure point of view, he’d still have to rely on someone like Cisco or 3Com.

“When you do an integration between different vendors, the challenges are different. From a support standpoint, we don’t want to have the issue of problems with this particular equipment, problems with that particular equipment. If we highlight the problem, someone must own it, and then fix the problem.” With the telephone system being the backbone of Tech Data’s business, the less complications there are with the smallest number of vendors, the easier it is to focus on business without any hindrance.

Vardhan rates highly Cisco’s call centre application, Cisco Call Manager. “It gives us the ability to map our business to the call centre technology. Tech Data has a very high requirement in terms of managing our resources within the print office, in terms of getting the right kind of information from the call statistics. We rely on the call statistics information from the IP telephony systems to plan the front office business.”

The benefits to Tech Data have been instantaneous says Vardhan. “We know that Cisco IP telephony has a lot of capabilities in terms of integrating to ERP systems, via XML based applications. In fact, as a company we started leveraging some of those benefits in terms of bringing some of the data back onto the telephone through XML technology.”

Such data includes the call information about statistics, business sales, margin and some of the information retaining to the hotspots of Tech Data’s business. “We’ve not gone into full blown information because we want to make sure we don’t tie up the users with a whole load of data on the telephone. We want to make sure that something that goes as a flash onto the telephone is the right kind of data.” Tech Data is currently in the process of identifying those elements for deployment.

There will also be further connectivity between the telephone and the computer. “The technology is available, Cisco IP telephony has a lot of capabilities. We will eventual plan to leverage that technology.” Examples include customer information coming onto the computer screen as a call is received. “At the moment we have not integrated that portion, but it will eventually come.”

The issue of business continuity that was a problem with the old system has been rectified, according to Vardhan. “With IP telephony we have a systems whereby complete business continuity is taken care of. If one system goes down, another takes over. The telephones will never stop, this is one of the biggest benefits.”

Tech Data has an office in Jebel Ali, and with the previous system it could not extend its extension numbers over the lease lines. “With a new Cisco IP telephony, we have made these two offices seamless.”

Operational cost savings have come through managing and installation of new lines, cutting down the need for continuous contact with vendor engineers. “Today, if you want a telephone right here I can get my engineer to simply plug it in without any expertise. It’s so simple to manage. Everything is Windows-based so I don’t have to give any extra technical training to my administrators. That is the biggest saving.”

Moreover, as all the traffic resides on a single network, it will require less cabling as Tech Data’s network grows.||**||

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