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Focus on your business, leave the phones to the experts

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CTO of Protravel International, Lou Moran, shares his thoughts on how cloud-based solutions like M5 Networks allowed him to refocus on his core business.

Recently, I was told that I was considered brave, bold and on the cutting edge for the initiatives I've taken with my IT Department as CTO of Protravel International. "Everything you have is in the cloud!" my associate gushed. While not entirely correct, it is true that many of my core IT services are being outsourced and hosted in "The Cloud." There wasn't a particular push towards "The Cloud" (a buzzword I deplore), instead there were circumstances that required the flexibility and speed that only "The Cloud" can deliver.

My choice to move our email to a hosted cloud solution is a very good example of this dynamic. When I arrived at Protravel in 2005, removing Windows 95 from the desktop was paramount, followed closely by getting a handle on the three failing mail servers. Facing a small and relatively green staff with a growing user population, I decided to get email "off my plate" for six months and found an excellent email host. To my surprise, after 6 months of a hosted solution, I saw absolutely no good reason to reclaim email. We're a travel management company, not an email company. I was able to save 3 staff positions I would later fill with more useful travel technology professionals.

The decision to put my phones in "The Cloud" was, however, much more deliberate. With a mess of unconnected phone systems and beguiling billing, I wanted one phone system and a consistent bill. Even though I knew that my company size (in 2006 approaching 700 in 20 sites) made a hosted PBX problematic, it was precisely what I wanted. I wasn’t interested in putting up a bunch of big iron in CoLo somewhere and managing a massive phone system; nor did I care to untangle a "hybrid" VOIP/PBX in five years. After an exhaustive search of possible solutions, I was convinced no one was doing what I wanted, at least not in the way I imagined it. Fortunately, I found M5 Networks. They struck me not only as smarter than the other companies, but infinitely more honest about my expectations and the current state of their industry.

Making the move to M5 may have seemed cutting edge but I never considered it bold. Simply put, their model is smart and scalable. I look at it as being the right client with the right vendor at the right time. Protravel International has set the bar with our M5 communication system, actually being referenced and praised in industry trade magazines and at shows. "Did you hear how Protravel kept American Airlines on the phone for 18 hours during the volcano?" It seems an odd thing to say about a hosted service, but we're proud of it. We use it as a selling point to our clients who fully expect to have access to us 24/7/365. They're not kidding, and neither are we about being up to the task.

What I tried to impress upon my associate was that my decisions to put “everything in The Cloud" were based less on "The Cloud" and more on the agility cloud-based solutions offer. While hosting, outsourcing and "The Cloud" can be money savers, what they really offer is the ability for a company to refocus on their core business and let experts handle the minutia. In the case of Protravel International, it's allowed me and my staff to become creative in how we're able to service clients in a web-enabled, smart-phone world without having to staff wrench turners and narrow field-focused employees. By not worrying about the reliability or quality of my phones, I have the time to envision and deliver solutions that clients are proud to use.