Technology: Building Better Communications

By Debra D'Agostino  |  Posted 07-12-2006

Creating a solid communications platform is hard enough when your employees are spread out over a handful of locations. But for Oakview Construction, a privately held, $80 million commercial construction and general contracting firm located in Red Oak, Iowa, a handful of locations was just a start. Oakview, which counts Wal-Mart as one of its many customers, has operations across all 48 states across the continental U.S.—many of them temporary, on-site locations.

Tim Peoples, director of information systems for Oakview, realized the company needed a more solid communications infrastructure than its archaic Pop3 e-mail system, and turned to e-mail software provider Gordano Limited for a solution. Senior Reporter Debra D'Agostino recently chatted with Peoples to learn more about his strategy. An edited transcript of his remarks follows.

CIO Insight: How did you come to partner with Gordano?
Peoples:
We are currently researching a project that would require us to set up a limited company. As part of this project, I would have to set up an e-mail system and infrastructure. So I began looking for an e-mail system that could replace our very old Pop3 server. My first thought was to go to Exchange, because they are the big boys on the block. But then you look at the price tag and the additional time and cost of training (not to mention the cost of archiving and tech support) and you just shake your head. Exchange is very expensive, and because we have a centralized IT shop, the expense would have had to come out of my budget.

So I started looking at other products, and came across Gordano, which was one-third the price of Exchange. Gordano had an archiving feature already built into the product, as well as shared calendaring, which is key. And the software was much simpler to use. That's important to us because the people who are going to use this program, my field guys, well, they're slow typers. You have to tailor the look and feel for people who aren't used to using computers.

How does that fit in with the bigger communications strategy?
Like I said, IT is centralized at our company, but the responsibility for the jobs is decentralized to the individual presidents who run the five geographic divisions of the company. And there are only three of us in IT, so we travel a lot. I spend about a week a month in Vegas, for example. But we are deploying a company-wide VoIP system, so it won't really matter where I am anymore.

VoIP was just installed in our main office, and we're now working to tie them to the other offices and then to our trailers out on the job. Once that's done, we can have unified messaging. Through our partnership with Gordano, my people can get e-mails and messages no matter where they are. Let's say someone calls my office and leaves me a message. My phone system will automatically convert that file and send it as an e-mail to the Gordano interface. Gordano picks up that message and delivers it to my inbox, and I can hear is as a .wav file.

It must not be easy to tie those systems together.
Well, the integration issues are always a headache, but it was much easier for us to do than I think it would have been with Exchange. With Exchange you have to set up all sorts of bells and whistles. There's a lot of configuration for each user. Gordano is more intuitive.

So how far are you from having a Unified Communications System?
Well, I am not sure you can ever really achieve a truly unified network. There are just so many pieces to that puzzle. But we are working to connect these systems as much as possible this year.