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VoIP links global company: call center operations at seven locations are streamlined, while costs are lowered.

The possibility of cost-free interoffice communications connecting workers in India with those in Chicago via a simple four-digit extension seemed the perfect solution to accommodate Alpha Thought's tremendous growth. The Chicago-based company, which provides third-party billing and medical claims processing for 4,000 U.S. physicians, had seen its staff swell from 100 to nearly 1,000 employees worldwide in just one year's time. With its growing employee roster and a series of acquisitions that resulted in seven additional Alpha Thought office locations, the company needed a unified communications system.

"We knew we had to go to voice over IP (VoIP) because we were opening a center in India, plus we had several facilities in the U.S.," says Anurag Mehta, Alpha Thought president and CEO. "We needed to take everything to the next level. We didn't have a choice, and VoIP is a technology I believed in."

Before taking the VoIP plunge, Mehta evaluated his communications situation. "We had all kinds of phone systems in place at the different locations as a result of acquisitions. We knew we had to scrap all of them, which was a major undertaking. We basically bought several companies, then had to get all of them on the same system," he explains.

Mehta investigated his VoIP options, comparing offerings from several companies before deciding on Fremont, Calif.-based AltiGen--with price and functionality being the deciding factors.

The initial installation, with help from Chicago-based MAS Consulting, involved connecting call centers in India, Chicago and High Point, N.C. "The Chicago implementation was done over a weekend, High Point took four days, and India under two weeks," says Mehta.

Two more company acquisitions followed, with four more business sites needing to be added to the communication system. The final configuration includes a server and 100 phones at Alpha Thought's Chicago headquarters, 125 phones and a server in Mount Joy, Pa., 50 phones and a server in High Point, 100 phones (soon to grow to 500) in India, more than 100 phones and a server in Chatsworth, Calif., 30 IP phones in Pittsburgh, and 30 IP phones in Dallas.

The AltiGen product selected for each location was tailored to meet anticipated employee and customer demands. AltiOffice Plus systems, which integrate voice and data communications of telephones, voice mail, e-mail, work groups, and local and remote IP calling to serve 24 to 600 users, were installed in the Chatsworth, High Point, Mount Joy and India locations. Meanwhile, AltiGen's AltiServ Office, a mid-sized converged business phone system targeted at 25 to 100 users, was installed in the Dallas location.

Chicago received four AltiServ2 IP systems, created for single and multisite businesses, and one AltiOffice Plus system. The AltiServ2 IP is a scalable IP phone system that supports continued growth of up to 200 users per chassis. Finally, Pittsburgh was outfitted with 25 AltiGen IP 600 phones, which provide instant access to IP extensions on AltiGen IP systems worldwide.

AltiGen's AltiServ Contact Center, created for call centers integrated within a business environment, was also implemented at all locations except Pittsburgh. AltiServ Contact Center, an add-on software module, provides automatic call distribution, desktop PC client interfaces for agents and supervisors, call routing and call distribution features, as well as real-time statistical reporting.

The cost of implementing the VoIP solution was more than $1 million. "That's quite a bit for a company with $40 million in revenue," says Mehta, "but we needed to have everything centralized and we know the ROI of the system is more than worth it."

The introduction of an all-IP system at seven different locations had two major results. First, communication among locations required only dialing a four-digit extension. Secondly, customers would no longer have to wait on hold for long periods of time. If a customer calls the Chicago headquarters and all agents were assisting other customers, the call would be seamlessly routed to another location from India to Dallas-where there were available agents who could pull up their account information and answer their questions.

Alpha Thought serves as "billing question/answer central" for the patients of nearly 4,000 physicians. Mehta estimates the company processes more than $1 billion in claims per year.

"People do not want to be on hold," says Mehta. "If the queue is too long, we have the ability to redirect calls to other people-without the customer knowing the difference. The caller just knows that his question is answered quickly."

In the past year, Alpha Thought has realized preliminary ROI, including savings on interoffice calls (which now cost essentially nothing since they travel through the existing data network). Also, Alpha Thought was able to negotiate lower per-minute rates for incoming 800 and outbound calls, as all calls are now routed through the main Chicago hub.

The biggest challenge with the AltiGen implementation, says Mehta, involved individual sites adapting to localized numbers. IP phones in Pennsylvania, for example, have a 312 (Chicago) area code. Also, the company faced some initial employee reluctance in learning the skills associated with a new system, something Mehta calls inevitable with any new technology, but which was easily overcome after a short period of time.

One major advantage of the new systems is that VoIP allows Alpha Thought to do much of its troubleshooting from one central location without visiting the individual call center sites, freeing up employee time and resources. The real business benefit of VoIP however, according to Mehta, is that it "allows employees and customers to communicate with each other from anywhere in the world."

For more information from AltiGen:
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Title Annotation:Voice Networks; Alpha Thought
Comment:VoIP links global company: call center operations at seven locations are streamlined, while costs are lowered.(Voice Networks)(Alpha Thought)
Publication:Communications News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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