Global Crossing Takes First Steps in Unified Communications

By Paula Musich  |  Posted 2007-10-16

Global Crossing Takes First Steps in Unified Communications


Global Crossing Takes First

Steps in Unified Communications ">

While most enterprise IT shops today still dont know what Unified Communications really is, information systems leaders at Global Crossing in 2005 had a pretty good idea of what it was and how the company could benefit from it.

On Oct. 16, Global Crossing IS leaders will participate in the launch of Microsofts UC platform and demonstrate how their UC implementation via Office Communications Server 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 helped improve worker productivity by streamlining exception handling.

To read more about the Microsoft Unified Communications introduction, click here.

In trying to transform business processes by automating operational workflows two years ago, Michael Fuqua, senior vice president of IS at Global Crossing, saw that users had to deal with a lot of exceptions, which would take them out of the business application they were working in.

"My teams were building platforms to automate business rules, but there was always some exception to the process. [Users] would stop a process, write down some information, get out of their application, go the phone, look up a person in a directory, figure out who to escalate to and come back to the application later," described Fuqua, in Rochester, N.Y.

In looking to UC to streamline that, "I wanted to figure out how to keep that communications activity in the business application itself when the exception happened, solve it then and move along as fast as possible. I basically wanted to embed a communications tool into core business applications," he added.

With the aim of using APIs [Application Program Interfaces] to bring the exception communications activities into core business applications, Fuqua and his team evaluated "all the available tools at the time" and chose to work with Microsofts Live Communications Server. "What grabbed us was their strategy and where it was going," said Fuqua.

The game plan when Global Crossing began its LCS rollout in September 2005 was to standardize chat activity and chat service structures across the company. So Global Crossing selected an enterprise IM (Instant Message) client that would allow it to link into and support "outside AOL addresses or the like to have contacts with people outside the company," he explained.

The next step was to take the presence awareness capability of LCS and embed it into Global Crossings Peoplefinder Intranet application, which was used heavily across the company to gather organizational data as well as contact information for Global Crossing employees.

Then after publicizing the new embedded communications capability so that business owners and users could see how it could be used within their own functions, the IS team embedded the LCS presence awareness function into a couple of core business applications.

"If the business wasnt asking for it, Id approach the business owner, demonstrate a prototype and have them think about how theyd use it in their own process. With that demo we got instant adoption," said Fuqua.

By the end of 2006, with LCS fully deployed across Global Crossing, Fuquas team saw the next steps Microsoft was taking with Office Communications Server 2007 and chose to beta test the follow-on to LCS. "We saw it as more powerful with richer presence, telephony and [support] for more audio and video actions," he said.

After beginning with a small beta test with 30 users, Fuquas team ramped up the OCS 2007 deployment across larger and larger numbers of users, and then across the whole company in September to some 5,300 users around the globe.

Despite the embedded IP PBX functions within OCS 2007, Global Crossing has not used it to replace existing traditional or IP PBXs —yet.

"We have not physically replaced [PBXs], but thats our objective. We stopped all deployment of any other telephony equipment in mid-2007. We will look to displace some PBXs, except in the major call center," said Fuqua.

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The next steps will be to integrate communications functions into other core business applications and determine when to replace traditional desktop phones with OCS soft-phones on the desktop. Global Crossing will also roll out Exchange 2007 across the company in the next several months to take advantage of voicemail and auto-assistance in Outlook.

The IS team during and after the rollout kept track of statistics gathered by Microsofts Mediation Server to determine how quickly users were adopting the new capabilities.

"We keep track of all IM sessions per week, conferencing services, video sessions to see where people are leveraging [the new technology]. During the controlled beta tests, we saw 20,000 IM sessions per week. After the rollout, that [number] jumped to 120,000 a week. And were seeing conferencing running at 1,200 or so a week," said Fuqua.

Fuqua was surprised that the number of trouble tickets that were initiated as a result of the rollout only increased by 10 to 20 percent initially and then dropped down to 3 to 5 percent more than normal at the help desk.

Steve Schafer, who heads up the OCS deployment team, attributed many of those new trouble tickets to training and usage issues. The IS team worked hard to insure that availability issues would not be a problem by designing the system with plenty of high availability features and hardened the environment across all elements, including servers, clients and networks.

"We did a lot of load testing on the [eight OCS] servers. We wanted to assure ourselves the load structure was good, so that we were solid as the volume activities and usage actions increased. We looked at Quality of Service structures and made sure we had no congested points in our network," said Schafer in Rochester, N.Y.

Global Crossing also created multiple front-end servers for OCS with load balancers. "We know if one front-end server goes down, [traffic] is rerouted to another. And we have the same services on the edge. We are constantly looking at disaster recovery and how quickly we could be running again if a data center was obliterated," said Schafer.

"When youre talking about adding things like dial tone, you need higher availability than a standard IM client," he added.

Although the primary aim of the project was not to reduce telecommunications costs, that has been a side benefit. "Were not spending money on conferencing externally, and we can use on-net telephony so we are saving dollars there. I look at software as a major component of the future of networking as well. This fits strategically," said Fuqua.

Of course, it doesnt hurt that the on-net conferencing alone will pay for the deployment in about six months time. Still more savings will result from less travel. Fuqua, who estimates that the project in the first year cost roughly $25 to $28 per seat, said that some business units expect to reduce travel costs by 50 percent in the fourth quarter by using OCS.

And by reducing the hit that productivity takes when exceptions to a business process happen, Global Crossing is reducing costs there as well as improving customer satisfaction.

"Every time you have some exception in workflow, and it takes 35 minutes to resolve that, theres a cost benefit there if you can lower it to 12 minutes per exception," said Schafer.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.

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