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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Case Study

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Case Studies

ShoreTel speeds VoIP installations and eliminates complexity for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

More flexibility to cover a wide area of operations

The Army Corps of Engineers needed a better voice infrastructure to cover its 45,000 square miles. About half of the district’s 1,000 employees work at headquarters and the rest are spread across 49 remote sites and one floating repair vessel fleet.

Reduce costs and management headaches

The Army Corps of Engineers Huntington District’s legacy voice system consisted of ISDN lines connected to Centrex service. It wasn’t a flexible architecture, and the phone bill for the district office alone was exceeding $30,000 per month. “We were paying Verizon for Centrex, plus the General Services Administration was taking its cut,” says Robert Hall, coordinator of voice and data communications for Huntington District. “It was really eating us up.”

So was the time it took to get the phone company to make any changes. The average wait was two weeks, and some were much longer. Huntington District decided to find a phone system that could be managed internally.

Huntington District evaluated VoIP solutions from Nortel and Cisco before selecting the ShoreTel system because it was significantly less expensive and much simpler to implement and manage. “As you configure a Cisco system, it gets very complex very quickly,” observes Huntington District computer specialist Anthony Estep. “That was a huge factor.”

Retaining the existing system and adding another one to the second practice was not viable. As a traditional telephone system, the Commander system couldn’t link to additional locations. It was also struggling to accommodate the clinic’s needs at the time, which included making answering hundreds of calls each day. Callers were regularly placed in lengthy queues. The clinic was also experiencing line dropouts and lost calls after callers were put on hold. On top of that, there was no effective reporting on the status of the system.

ShoreTel VoIP migration proves to be painless

Huntington District began its VoIP migration by moving the IT group to the ShoreTel voice system. This pilot, involving a single ShoreTel Voice Switch, convinced the organization to convert its entire district headquarters facility and deploy ShoreTel IP phones.

“We changed out the phones during business hours, taking an average of about five minutes per phone user,” recalls Hall. “In an office with 30 people, we were usually done by noon. The installation went even more smoothly than we expected, and just about everyone in the building commented that it was the most painless upgrade we’ve ever done.”

The team started at 8 a.m. and by noon was ready to pull the old connection and plug in the new one. The installation was completed with in-house personnel, and did not require any outside contract support.

Through the headquarters implementation experience, Huntington District developed a welloiled process that is being further refined for doing new field office installations. “In our environment, communications are our top priority,” states Estep. “If we have a catastrophic event, we can be on-site and put in a new system in a day. That is phenomenal.”

“THE OVERALL ECONOMICS AND MANAGEABILITY OF THIS SYSTEM ARE UNBELIEVABLE. WHEN YOU HEAR SOMEONE DESCRIBE THIS TECHNOLOGY, YOU SAY, ‘SHOW ME. IT CAN’T BE THIS GOOD.’ BUT IT IS.”

Anthony Estep
Huntington District Computer Specialist
Army Corps of Engineers

About 850 users across the district are now on IP telephony, but most of them are still using traditional analog telephone sets. Some of the field offices are still served by legacy voice systems, but Huntington District’s VoIP migration continues, and more sites are slated for upgrading in the near future. As the legacy equipment wears out or requires significant maintenance, it is being replaced with the ShoreTel platform.

Productivity Gets a Boost

ShoreTel’s award-winning Personal Call Manager application basically puts a PBX on everyone’s desktop, and represents a completely new telephony paradigm for users. The interface is so intuitive and its benefits are so obvious that Huntington District’s employees have had no trouble with the transition. Virtually everyone in the district office is now using the PCM, and people in the field are quickly following suit.

Collaboration and communication are further aided by ShoreTel’s built-in Converged Conferencing Bridge, which provides a more convenient and cost-effective forum than the conference service provider Huntington District used to employ. The fleet engineers are based in the district office, but they spend a lot of time out in the field working on repairs. With the ShoreTel IP telephony system, they simply log in to the network from anywhere, and their calls find them as if they were sitting at their desks in Huntington. The same applies to the IT staff.

Since phone numbers are associated with people, not devices at particular locations, staff members based on the mobile repair fleet can have permanent phone numbers, and their calls automatically follow them as they move around. “The overall economics and manageability of this system are unbelievable. When you hear someone describe this technology, you say, ‘Show me. It can’t be this good.’ But it is.”

Quick ROI

Installing a new phone on a legacy phone system used to cost the district hundreds of dollars and impose an average two-week delay. In contrast, a new ShoreTel phone can be installed in minutes, and doesn’t require a provider’s truck roll to the site. Huntington District no longer has to depend on an outside party and then wait days or weeks for a simple change that actually takes a few minutes.

Additional savings come from toll bypass. The region spans multiple LATAs, and about 80 percent of the long-distance calls made by the field offices are going to the district headquarters in Huntington. These interoffice calls now ride the IP WAN for free, bypassing the long-distance carrier networks and reducing recurring monthly costs.

“SHORETEL HAS FREED UP MONEY WE CAN NOW USE ON OTHER THINGS. THIS SYSTEM LETS US DO MORE WITH LESS. IN THIS TIME OF TIGHT BUDGETS, I DON’T KNOW WHY MORE ORGANIZATIONS AREN’T IMPLEMENTING A SHORETEL-TYPE SOLUTION.”

Estep and Hall estimate that the new IP telephony system has reduced recurring monthly costs by 70 percent. An up-front cost-benefit analysis led them to expect a two-year return on investment, but the ShoreTel system paid for itself inside of 18 months. They also discovered they can install a ShoreTel system in a field office for about half of what a Nortel, Cisco, or Avaya VoIP solution would cost. “ShoreTel has freed up money we can now use on other things,” sums up Estep. “This system lets us do more with less. In this time of tight budgets, I don’t know why more organizations aren’t implementing a ShoreTel-type solution.”

CHALLENGE:

  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Huntington District’s Centrex-based voice system had become a liability. It was expensive and inflexible, and the service provider typically took two weeks or more to process orders for simple changes.

SOLUTION:

  • The Army Corps of Engineers deployed a single ShoreTel VoIP system that is distributed across headquarters, remote sites, and a mobile repair fleet, and is easily managed from anywhere by the internal staff.

BENEFITS:

  • 70 percent reduction in monthly costs
  • ROI in 18 months
  • Facilitated more productive mobile operations
  • Eliminated the cost of third-party technicians