Business Challenge:

  • Lack of vendor support on outdated phone system
  • Provide business continuity capabilities

Abt Associates, founded in 1965, is one of the largest for-profit government and business research and consulting firms in the world. With a staff of more than 1000 employee-owners conducting business around the world, Abt conducts business from seven offices in the United States and more than 35 project sites in 30 countries. When the company’s Director of IT, David Kiklis, joined Abt, he quickly realized that company communications could no longer be sustained by the 15-year old phone system.

We had outgrown our communications system and the vendor could not provide much support on it, so I was not at all interested in investing more into keeping the old system going, says Kiklis. I felt that by investing in changing the backbone of the entire network, we could have a full-featured communications system that solved other business issues as well. Issues that included stronger network security and management, and an IP infrastructure that would support future applications such as the ability to utilize video conferencing were high priorities. Abt Associates management was also specifically concerned with having a business continuity solution in place for a number of disaster scenarios including loss of the facility, loss of access to the facility due to a quarantine situation, and loss of power and/or network services at its facility.

Together with his staff, Kiklis researched the company’s options. With the Avaya phone system already installed, simply upgrading that equipment might have seemed the low-risk path to take. However, When I looked at how strongly a Cisco converged voice and data solution would support our business, it became the obvious choice, says Kiklis. Having made that decision, Kiklis then focused on choosing an IT company he could rely on to successfully complete the upgrade project. The Abt team chose Cisco Gold Certified Partner, Force 3. According to Kiklis, the differentiator that won Force 3 the business was the strong team they could assemble for the project as well their unique company perspective and the level of professionalism that they could provide. I felt like the Force 3 people really listened to us and responded to our request in a thoughtful fashion rather than providing a standard response, says Kiklis. They presented very clearly what they could do for us.

Network Solution:

  • Converged voice/data network with built-in redundancy and security

To start the project, the Force 3 team, headed up by Brad Osborne, VP of Force 3 Systems, met with Kiklis and members of the Abt IT staff to learn about the business requirements that needed to be met by a new communications system. One of the critical requirements was business continuity and the ability to maintain a phone system that would meet a variety of disaster scenarios. Also key was ROI (return on investment) and the ability to show operational cost savings.

Force 3 designed a solution that addressed Abt’s primary business focus: Business continuity. The great thing about a Unified Communications solution is that it is really flexible and can expand or contract to meet a customer’s needs, says Osborne, With this technology we could design a solution that best meets Abt’s requirements today, including their business continuity needs, and also take the company forward ten years or more.

Abt was concerned with 3 specific disaster scenarios: 1) Complete loss of the facility 2) A regional outage 3) A displaced workforce due a quarentine situation. To address these concerns, Force 3 designed a solution that included Cisco Unified CallManager over a WAN at the company’s two main facilities, providing regional disaster recovery capability and Cisco Unified Survivable Remote Site Telephony (SRST) tying five remote facilities into a main Cisco Unified CallManager facility. The Force 3 team also integrated Cisco Unity voicemail with highly clustered messaging that would help ensure disaster recovery for voicemail messages. The integration offered by Cisco Unified Communications delivers built-in backup, says Osborne. There is also an inherent level of security built into these solutions that really helps address security issues faced by organizations today. With a hybrid type of solution, you cannot necessarily guarantee the same level of built-in security.

Before deploying the corporate site, Force 3 set up a standalone Cisco Unified CallManager Express/Cisco Unity Express solution at one of Abt’s remote sites providing a pilot test to make sure that the solution would deliver and meet business needs. This was a very sophisticated architecture, states Osborne, In addition to careful project management, our design element needed to meet stringent business continuity requirements.

Business Results:

  • Improved communications between offices
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery for voicemail and phone system

Now that Cisco Unified Communications is deployed at Abt Associates Cambridge headquarters and Bethesda sites, as well as a few smaller sites, the company is realizing several powerful benefits. With our new Cisco solution, our company now has four-digit dialing, which we have never had before, says Kiklis. Communications between our sites is so much easier, which boosts everyone’s productivity. With our old system, the internal dialing rules were so arcane, and the calls between sites were incurring large long-distance charges. The business recovery capabilities provided by Force 3’s solution have helped remove the risk of losing voicemail or the phone system going down.

The project was a success for Force 3 as well.

Unified communications is one of our largest core competencies, and we have been marketing that expertise to mid- market size companies and learned of the needs at Abt Associates, says Osborne. This was a very intricate design that really helped us prove our expertise in the technology and in understanding the business requirements of mid-size companies.

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