Fort saw the opportunity to consolidate voice and data traffic onto one IP network. By doing so, he projected, he would be able to save money on management and telephony services. He also figured that he could further leverage the investment by using the companys new WAN to enhance the customer experience in Virgin Megastores by delivering digital content to kiosks and multimedia content to store displays. "VOIP was coming along, and it was getting past the bleeding edge and moving to the leading edge," Fort said.Last April, Fort presented his business proposal to the Virgin Entertainment board and received approval. The key to approval, he said, was his estimation that future savings from the project could be used to pay for the deployment, thereby making the deployment self-funding. "We had a very strong dollars-and-cents business case," Fort said. "Were also an innovative company, so we knew where we want to be going forward." Fort and his team went into the product evaluation process with specific criteria. For example, he wanted a service provider that would respond more quickly and that had better service levels than the current provider. He also wanted a solution that would be easy to manage because he had only two network and server administrators supporting the project. Fort considered three deployment scenarios: a self-contained model for which Virgin Entertainments IT staff would be responsible, a hybrid solution in which Virgin Entertainment would keep its existing PBX hardware and convert calls from analog to digital as they ran across the network, and a hosted model that would give control to a service provider. Since the point of the project was to replace Virgin Entertainments PBXes, the hybrid solution wouldnt work. And, with the costs for the hosted model high and ongoing, Fort decided to go with a self-contained solution. As a Cisco Systems customer, Fort decided to replace his switches and routers with new equipment from Cisco. He also chose to move his data network to SBC Communications and worked with SBC and an SBC partner for the deployment. The project, which began in September 2005, was on a strict timeline. As a retailer, Virgin Entertainment couldnt risk any network issues during the holiday shopping season. Therefore, the first phase of the projectthe implementation in a new Hollywood store and the new Times Square store in New York, as well as the relocation of the network central system from Atlanta to a co-location facility in Irvine, Calif.all needed to take place within a five-week time frame. Next Page: The next phase.
"I looked at that and started to think, We could tie this up in one big knot. I definitely had a business case where we could improve the bottom line by going to a converged network and VOIP and address other issues at the same time."