CIO to CFO: What I Really Need is $868,000

One-hundred thousand phone numbers.

That was Trident Marketing’s goal when it was looking to upgrade its phone system to accommodate the company’s explosive growth. The company runs high-volume call sales centers for its clients. With clients such as satellite entertainment company DirectTV, ADT and Travel Resorts of America, it needed to expand its capacity and improve its system stability.

In addition to having 100,000 available phone numbers – up from its former count of 20,000 – to handle its explosive growth, Trident wanted to be able to track that growth to know where to put its money and into what type of marketing program. “We went from traditional PBX with T1 lines, [with] no call tracking per se — a standard out-of-the-box phone system — to having a need to be able to track the marketing programs, the agents and those sorts of things,” says Brandon Brown, CIO of Trident Marketing.

The company had performed an upgrade of its phone system, but found that its software and new hardware weren’t playing nicely together. “The phone system was rebooting itself two or three times a day because of the implementation. When you dive in and the core product is failing, this is a business killer,” Brown says. “We probably lost about $6 million to $8 million in business because of the phone system’s instability. It was simply the fact that it wasn’t put in right. We made a lot of mistakes.”

One of the mistakes was pushing a former hardware vendor to migrate Cisco software onto its existing platform without testing it, says Brown. Ultimately, Trident decided it needed to turn to Cisco for help. Cisco introduced Brown to Dimension Data, a Cisco solution provider that specializes in infrastructure projects. Trident brought them on to help it re-engineer its phone system to allow it to expand its local number presence and to help it handle surges in call volume.

Dimension Data helped Trident transition to the Cisco Customer Voice Portal (CVP) VoIP solution on Trident’s SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) trunking architecture. It also wanted the solution provider to manage and monitor its infrastructure to ensure minimal downtime. “Once they came in and stabilized our system from the wreck that it was in, they became a trusted partner from that time forward,” Brown says. “The high-touch sales model — it’s what I think the CIO of today really needs to abide by.”

Dimension Data was able to understand Trident’s business, figure out where it was heading, and recommend the right technology path, Brown says. Having engaged an experienced partner in the project, Trident was able to buy technology that would grow with the company while providing the stability it needs.

“We spent almost $1 million to do an upgrade on a $2 million phone system,” says Brown. “But now we can grow into a call center with global implications. That’s the beauty of CVP. CIOs and IT managers are typically pretty pessimistic, and I was and I can tell you without equivocation that we have not had one minute of downtime since we did the upgrade. Including the Monday after we turned it on. Not a minute.”

The system cost about $868,000, Brown says, significantly more than the $100,000 it would have cost to simply try and spruce up the old, failing system. “Everybody knew the phone system was a problem and it needed to be fixed." As CIO, Brown says he had to talk key decision-makers into spending $868,000 instead of merely $100,000 to improve the system effectively. “To go from $100,000 to $868,000 was quite a swallow for the CFO and the CEO, but using their own numbers back at them, [I told them] ‘You lost $6 million to $8 million by your own calculations. I’m proposing we lose zero.’ “

As for return on investment, Brown says the system is also saving the company approximately $65,000 a month because the migration to a SIP-enabled communications platform eliminated local PSTN gateways. Savings paid for the SIP trunking and for CVP.

While the system deployed smoothly, Brown says finding the right staff to maintain it at the Pinehurst, N.C.-based company was a challenge. “When you go with these high technology telephony solutions like VoIP, you are going to spend some money in the fact that you’re going to have to have Cisco people on board on your own staff, which typically are expensive people. If you’re located in a rural area like we are, getting high-tech propeller-heads to work for you becomes a difficult sell,” he says. Finding the right candidate took about a year.

Dimension Data also provides support. For other CIOs looking to upgrade their VoIP systems, Brown says to choose your partner wisely. “I would have any CIO [who is] in my role look for a true high-touch sales model. This is our business. If the phones don’t ring, we don’t make money. Anybody in my role has to find someone interested in what the business problem is. You need someone with global experience to say ‘I have this line card of products, and this one best suits your need’,” he says. “Pick your partner. Don’t pick a Cisco without picking your partner first.”

Finding the right combination of partner and product has helped Trident thrive after years of lost potential.

“Even though we were a $600-million company, and somewhat small player in this industry, we bought the Cadillac and implemented it with the right mechanic, and now we’re on the road to profitability,” Brown says. “We’re up probably 35 percent [in profits] from last year just from the ability to take on these new marketing programs.”

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