Centrex drops the call for NuComm International

Since its start in 1991 with a single call centre, NuComm International has grown to six sites and now has nearly 3,000 employees. Unfortunately its telephone system wasn’t able to keep up with the firm’s growth rate.

Headquartered in St. Catharines, Ont., NuComm was using Centrex telephone service for its agents, who answer and make calls on behalf of financial firms, telecom operations and retail companies. But as NuComm grew, it outstripped Centrex, discovering first-hand the limitations of the carrier-hosted telephony model.

“With Centrex you spend a lot of time investigating what it could do, or if it could do,” said Shaun Learn, NuComm’s director of technology and strategic planning. “We were always challenging the capabilities of it, trying to find creative solutions around it.”

Most recently NuComm found a creative solution that spelled a move away from Centrex altogether. The company dropped the service in favour of Avaya Inc.’s Enterprise Branch Connect platform, an IP telephony system with call centre applications that address NuComm’s requirements.

Learn said his company has a do-it-yourself mandate: if NuComm can build applications in-house, it will do so. The firm sought a telephone platform that would connect easily with home-brewed apps, such as the call auditing program that NuComm uses for quality control. Avaya’s solution fit the bill, providing the technology required to get the auditing app implemented.

“We did a lot of interviewing, going to third-party providers and asking their opinions,” Learn said. “If you had a choice of integrating with different technologies, how would you rank them? Who have you been most successful with in the past? Who do you find the easiest to integrate with, and why?…Avaya consistently came to the top.”

Learn said the old Centrex service simply couldn’t provide the sort of integration options that NuComm sought. And according to Samantha Kane, a telecom industry analyst at Kane-MacKay & Associates Ltd. in Belleville, Ont., many small-but-growing companies discover Centrex’s limitations as they mature.

Centrex can get expensive, she said. “We did a comparison for one of the big five banks. The telecom people wanted to stay with Centrex. If you were to add 50 agents with Centrex…it was $146,000 install and $20,000 a month operating cost. The enterprise solution on a lease was $60,000 install and $10,000 a month.”

Steven Fair, Avaya Canada’s vice-president of direct sales, said Centrex represents a growth opportunity for his firm. “The majority of large installations come from moves away from Centrex.”

Still, Centrex is changing. Witness Telus Corp.’s IP-One. This service, hosted by the Burnaby, B.C.-based telco, provides voice and data connectivity and applications meant to give customers greater control than old-fashioned Centrex could. Bell Canada is said to be working on a similar offering.

Will such IP Centrex systems provide growing enterprises with an alternative to customer-premise-equipment (CPE)-based platforms like those from Avaya? Not in Kane’s opinion.

“I’m not a Centrex voice over IP fan for larger environments. I think where Centrex voice over IP works is in the onesies, twosies,” she said, explaining that large companies might opt for a CPE system and small companies would consider a hosted system. “Anything under five sets, the enterprise solution is very expensive.”

Learn said Centrex may have its problems, but CPE systems like the Avaya platform bring new troubles.

“With the Avaya solution, we can find solutions faster and implement them faster. But now that we have more options, there’s more work. People want to take advantage of the increased horsepower.”

That’s not necessarily bad, though.

“I think this enables us to have more control now, which is good,” Learn said. “Before, we would place the order, wait six days, seven days, 10 weeks, however long it took to get the order implemented. We’re not doing that anymore. Want it done? Do I have three hours to do it? Boom, I do it.”

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