When Skype doesn't quite cut it

Many of the developers working for Digital Rapids are off site but they need to stay in touch. Find out how it got the necessary telecom products for free

A small Canada-based multimedia vendor is using unified communications to help its developers collaborate and its customer service reps provide around-the-clock support.

Digital Rapids, which makes hardware and software for encoding and streaming video content, plans to install 48 seats of call centre software, plus supporting hardware, from Cisco Systems. Digital Rapids won't pay a cent because it won nearly US$70,000 worth of products in a promotion contest, dubbed Extreme Business Makeover.

Along with more than 700 other companies, Digital Rapids submitted a business case, stating how unified communications would benefit the company, which was reviewed by a panel of judges.

"We are a small company with a very tight support group but we offer enterprise class support with 24/7, 365 (day-per-year) call access with dedicated numbers and we found our current system doesn't allow us the flexibility that we need," said Digital Rapids president Brick Eksten. This is important, given the company's customer base includes large entertainment firms such as Warner Bros. Entertainment and NBC Universal.

Cisco provides "a more advanced call system with queues," Eksten added.

As a reward for winning the Extreme Makeover contest, Cisco plans to install Unified Communications Express Manager, along with voicemail, an Integrated Services Router and Catalyst power over Ethernet switches, said Pauline Lacroix, director of marketing and communications for Cisco Canada. Both Digital Rapids and Retail Ready Foods, a meat distributor, tied first place for the top prize. The winners were decided by a panel of five judges, who rated contestants' business cases using five criteria: network and business compatibility, perceived operational efficiency, projected sales growth, competitive advantage and ingenuity.

Along with the call centre gear, Digital Rapids will also be getting Cisco 79xx series IP phones, which are compatible with Extensible Markup Language (XML).

"The other thing that's really cool about it is their phones are all XML driven, so as you get a call we can actually display customer information on the phone whether the employees are logged into the system or not," Eksten said.

He added the Cisco products will include presence awareness, which lets workers know whether they can reach colleagues, and if so the best way of reaching them.

"We tried every other system out there," Eksten said. "We've got combinations of Skype and (instant messaging) and Outlook and the current phones we have but they're all separate systems. If you're in a meeting and you can't use Skype but can use IM but other guy's on his phone, it just doesn't work. You can't see the guy so what's the point?"

Eksten said during the first year, Cisco has agreed to provide maintenance support, and Cisco did not ask Digital Rapids to endorse the vendor as a condition for receiving the contest prize.

Although Digital Rapids has only 70 employees, the main office location in a suburb northeast of Toronto, plus its presence at five other locations throughout the world, make it difficult to work without an ultra-modern communication system.

"We have developers who need to work from home sometimes," Eksten said. "Even though we're located in Markham, I'd say more than half of our developers live 40 minutes to an hour a way, so we give them a lot of flexibility."

The Cisco system lets Digital Ready combine its customer relationship management software (which consists of a customized add-on to NetSuite) with its telecom system.

"We will be including soft phones for all the guys that have to be mobile," Eksten said. "Some guys will just get hard phones because they work at home all the time. For technical reasons we don't want them to have to have the computer booted to have the phone ring."

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Greg Meckbach

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