Compact credit union banks on IP

A Winnipeg-based financial institution says its new communications system spells cost savings, but industry analysts say the novel network also illustrates a trend that goes beyond bottom-line concerns.

Vantis Credit Union, a relatively small financial service provider, last month said it had installed Avaya Inc.’s Internet protocol (IP) telephony infrastructure, including IP phones and switches.

The move made sense for a number of reasons. For one, Vantis is the offspring of a merger between Hy-line Credit Union and Decibel Credit Union last October. Faced with the daunting task of marrying disparate communications infrastructures, the firms landed on IP telephony as the most cost-effective way to bring everything together.

“They needed to replace the phone systems, they had to replace the data networks,” said David Sherry, spokesman for Oshawa, Ont.-based Cygnal Technologies Corp., which won the contract to install Vantis’s IP substructure. “They just said, ‘Okay, let’s try and find a product we can put in [to create] one network to support voice and data.'”

Leveraging Hy-line’s existing Avaya PBX, Vantis had Cygnal upgraded the device’s software to release 11 to make it IP-ready. Cygnal also installed MultiVantage call processing software, G700 media gateways at the credit union’s nine branches and Cajun 333P switches at seven of them.

To support voice and data network convergence – one wire for computer and phone connectivity at each staff member’s desk – Vantis moved from ISDN service to high-speed DSL, which provided the requisite bandwidth.

“We got rid of the ISDN lines and we’ve put everything across the data network,” said Brian Hansen, Vantis’s director of information technology, describing how this convergence play created cost savings for the credit union. “We didn’t have to have two separate lines going to each branch now.”

Another reason for the switch to IP: new features for the firm’s call centre. Vantis installed IP phones there, giving the credit union greater control over call centre operations.

“Now our call centre is portable,” Hansen said. “We’re growing and looking at moving it. There’s no extra wiring; we don’t have to move the switch. All we have to do is move to a new location and make sure we have enough bandwidth to operate.”

According to Sherry from Cygnal, Vantis sought a smooth transition from plain old telephone service to IP.

In the process, “we managed to protect the existing infrastructure,” he said. “Hy-line Credit Union already had an Avaya Definity PBX.…We put a gateway in front of that system, kept everyone functioning the way they were, and brought all the branches online IP.”

Sherry said the gateway “tied together the legacy technology and the new stuff so [Vantis] didn’t have to throw out the legacy equipment. The cool thing is, because it’s all Avaya, it’s transparent. The phone on the legacy system and the phone on the IP system function exactly the same.”

Vantis probably isn’t alone in its decision to run with IP telephony, according to the analysts at Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont.

“I think one of the big selling points of IP is if you have an existing PBX…it’s not a forklift,” said Noel Coates, Fox Group’s senior associate, architecture and design. “It’s a nice, bolt-on migration path that’s very simple to do.”

Roberta Fox, the firm’s president, said IP telephony is the right choice for small- and medium-sized business like Vantis.

“I think voice over IP is going to come from the bottom up – small and medium businesses and the one-of-many, like the banks that have a number of branch offices,” she said, adding that IP telephony advances not “from the enterprise out. It’s going to be from the small companies in.”

Sherry said Cygnal recognizes the potential for IP in the one-of-many market.

“You get used to doing these mirrored images,” he said, pointing out that connecting bank branches via IP is akin to building retail network infrastructure, such as the system Cygnal created for Wal-Mart in Canada.

“When you walk into a Wal-Mart store, they’re all the same. When you walk into a branch, it’s all the same. If you can keep that continuity, you can keep doing branches over and over. It becomes very easy.”

Continuity is the name of the game at Vantis, too, said Hansen. The idea is to maintain positive customer relationships. As far as he’s concerned, the credit union’s new communications system can only help.

“The whole intention is to provide better service for our customers,” he said. “It’s the number one driver. They’re going to be able to call in and get the services they need in a timely fashion, without being transferred all over Timbuktu.”