I wanted to simplify the sheer number of points of contact and make it easier to communicate.“
- Jared Grigg, Director of Communication and Information, Grigg Brothers
Toward a Streamlined Phone System
Grigg Brothers wanted to streamline and consolidate its corporate phone system. Its existing system was an assortment of phone lines and services for its headquarters and operational office in southern Idaho and seven branch offices around the U.S. Each office in Idaho supported several employees. Most of the branch offices where field technical reps were based had two phone lines – one for voice and another for fax – plus an Internet connection and mobile phone. “Communications and technology can be a big line item on the budget,” said Jared Grigg, Director of Communication and Information. “The reps were turning in expense reports with fax numbers and landlines and mobile lines, and I said, this is too much. This can be considerably more condensed. I wanted to simplify the sheer number of points of contact and make it easier to communicate.”
Grigg Brothers is a manufacturer and wholesaler of specialty fertilizers for the turf grass industry, including golf courses and sports fields. The company’s flagship products are liquid foliar fertilizers that are absorbed through the leaf tissue of a plant instead of through the roots. Nutrients applied in this way are almost fully absorbed, even during stressful times like summer heat, and create healthier turf. Grigg Brothers’ foliar fertilizers are also more environmentally friendly because they avoid toxic soil buildup, leaching and runoff.
In 2005, when Jared Grigg first started considering options for a new phone system, the owners of the company expressed skepticism about voice over IP (VOIP). They wondered whether it was mature and robust enough to support a business. Because of this and his prior experience managing a Nortel Meridian phone system, Grigg decided to focus more intently on traditional key telephone systems. He dialogued extensively with a local reseller, received several proposals and even proposed a system to the board of directors. The system offered greater flexibility and better features, but ultimately the directors turned it down because the cost was higher than what they were already paying and exceeded the technology budget.
Meanwhile VOIP technology was improving and gaining acceptance in the market. “I decided to look at the cloud again because more and more solutions were becoming available,” he said.
His first step was to deploy an Internet fax service. This service automatically converted incoming faxes to PDF format and sent them by email to the recipients. Everyone in the company received a new fax number. Technical reps who spent much of their time traveling could receive faxes immediately on their PC instead of waiting until they came back to the office. Outgoing faxes could be scanned in to a PC and emailed to the fax service for delivery. The electronic fax service cost considerably less than the dedicated fax lines it replaced.
A Serendipitous Opportunity
In 2007, ATC Communications, the Internet and phone service provider for Grigg Brothers headquarters, acquired a VOIP solution provider called Nextphone. Here Grigg saw an opportunity. One of his concerns with a VOIP solution was that if a problem arose, the VOIP provider might blame the Internet service provider and vice-versa, leaving the user caught in the middle. “If I went down this road, if I backed ATC with their new acquisition, then they would be responsible regardless of whether it was a phone problem or an Internet connectivity problem,” he said.
The ATC Nextphone service had the features they were looking for:
- Hosted IP phone service that all offices around the U.S. could access over an Internet connection
- Programmable “find me, follow me” feature for incoming calls that can, for instance, simultaneously ring a desk phone and cell phone, or one then the other, before going to voice mail
- Four-digit dial connecting everyone in their geographically distributed organization as if they were in the same building
- Internet fax service with solid features and technical support
- Unified messaging that sends voice mails and faxes to a user’s email inbox
- Conferencing capabilities so Grigg Brothers can set up and control its own conference calls
- Web portal for centralized programming and administration
- Automatic call routing to cell phones in case of local power outage
- Significantly lower cost than their existing phone system
This set of capabilities combined with Grigg Brothers’ established relationship with ATC made it attractive. “It was the perfect solution,” said Grigg. The company deployed Nextphone across all its locations. Branch offices received Linksys PAP2T Internet Phone Adapters. To access the new phone service, they only needed to connect the adapter to the Internet and plug in any standard telephone handset. If a technical rep preferred to rely exclusively on a cell phone, the system could be programmed to route all incoming calls there. The company also standardized on Google Apps Premier, so users can access email, voice mail and faxes anywhere using a Web browser.
Headquarters initially experienced intermittent call quality problems, much to Grigg’s chagrin, though his strategy of using the same VOIP and Internet service provider proved advantageous. Grigg was concerned that VOIP would get a black eye because the owners were already apprehensive. But he believed the hosted service was solid and worked with ATC to address the underlying network quality issue. While on the verge of deploying a second DSL at headquarters and a dedicated switch for the phone system, ATC offered to try boosting the bandwidth of the existing Internet connection. “It automatically improved. I have not had a single problem since the day they did that,” he said.
In my twenty plus years of doing this, I have never been more synchronized across all platforms.”
- Jared Grigg
Less Costly and Easier to Support
As a result of switching to VOIP, overall communication costs fell by more than 40% in the first 12 months and have remained level. At the same time, the company streamlined the number of phone lines and points of contact and improved its ability to communicate and collaborate.
Grigg is also pleased that he spends much less time supporting this new phone system. He uses the Nextphone web portal to handle routine administration and support requests. In fact, the company’s entire IT infrastructure is set up for centralized, remote administration. “In my office I have several computers and monitors in a semicircle around me, and I am remotely connected to every single asset in the company – all desktop computers, all laptops and even some cell phones as we move to smarter phones. In my twenty plus years of doing this, I have never been more synchronized across all platforms,” he said.
Soft Phones for International Roaming
More recently the company started using soft phones for placing calls when outside the U.S. to expensive international roaming charges. Soft phone software runs on PCs and smart phones such as iPhone and Android. It lets users place phone calls through that device over the Internet as if they were at their office desk. It is another way Grigg Brothers is using VOIP to keep down communication costs.
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