National Travel Systems Unravels Telecom Quilt

Case Study: AMA TechTel and ShoreTel help the travel management company consolidate its communications.

National Travel Systems may rank among the top five largest privately held travel management companies in the United States, but not long ago, the Lubbock, Texas, companys communications system was practically unnavigable.

Chris Allen would know. A major account representative at AMA TechTel Communications, a solutions integrator and communications company based in Amarillo, Texas, Allen was saddled with the job of consolidating NTS "eclectic quilt" of disparate telephone systems, long-distance carriers, local vendors and toll-free numbers into a comprehensive communications system.

As Allen tells it, it was a tall order indeed. At the time, NTS vendor list read like a whos who list of telcos, including Southwestern Bell, ESI, Nortel and SBC Communications. Complicating matters was the fact that Allen didnt have much time to spare. In the spring of 2003, NTS was granted the opportunity to bid on an exclusive, five-year contract with the state of Texas executive branch agencies to handle all the government bodies travel reservations.

Although eager to land the account, NTS knew that its existing telephone reservation system wouldnt be able to accommodate the states annual volume of 50,000 travel reservations. As it stood, NTS had fewer than half-a-dozen agents scattered across Texas.

A hodgepodge of disparate telephone systems meant that customers would often encounter a busy signal, voice mail or—worse—be forced to dial a string of 800-numbers before reaching an available agent. Further, theres the high cost of managing service contracts with a wide variety of local phone companies in locations including Amarillo, Lubbock, Austin and Perrytown.

Fortunately, an NTS client mentioned VOIP (voice over IP) technology as a possible solution to one of the companys Amarillo office representatives, adding that AMA TechTel specialized in such offerings. So, NTS contacted AMA TechTel directly and enlisted its assistance in the summer of 2003. NTS then spent the next six months evaluating solutions from no fewer than four vendors before selecting ShoreTel. Based in Sunnyvale, Calif., ShoreTel specializes in delivering network-based phone systems through its VOIP telephony platform.

By converting analog voice signals into digital data packets that travel over the Internet and conventional telephone networks, ShoreTel promised to help NTS centralize and manage its phone system across the entire enterprise, as well as seamlessly connect distant and mobile employees.

In fact, within four months, AMA TechTel completed the installation of the ShoreTel network, including two PRIs (Primary Rate Interfaces) on two ShoreGear T-1 lines, while replacing agents traditional phones with approximately 52 ShoreTel IP phones.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about how Virgin Entertainment Group plans to save money by employing VOIP.

Initially, Allen said NTS IP-based network experienced some jitters—variations in packet arrival time that can result in fleeting moments of lost audio. In fact, Rich Winslow, ShoreTels senior director of product management, said companies have to conduct a network assessment prior to deploying VOIP technology to ensure quality control.

AMA TechTel was able to resolve NTS network headaches by accessing the systems routers and resetting them so the system would automatically recognize voice packets as a top priority and ensure their speedy network transmission, even in the presence of data traffic such as e-mail.

The next step in the deployment process involved dividing NTS work force into teams representing various client groupings, from sports organizations to government agencies, according to Allen. From there, the Shore-Tel system was configured to identify which team would best be able to handle an incoming call from a particular client.

As for NTS traveling employees, the ShoreTel system provides unified messaging so users can receive voice mail through their laptops e-mail in-boxes as stored WAV audio for Windows files, Allen said. Similarly, NTS employees wishing to work from home need only establish a broadband Internet connection through a DSL line or cable modem and install ShoreTels VPN software to access NTS IP-based phone system.

But its the ability to increase workload rapidly that has truly sold NTS on the ShoreTel system. The systems built-in reporting capabilities allow NTS to monitor call volume to gauge employee productivity as well as flag high-traffic regions in need of greater agent support—key features that helped NTS successfully bid on a separate contract with the state of Texas executive branch agencies.

In the meantime, NTS has its eye on new markets and plans to bid on future contracts with the states of Oklahoma and Mississippi—sizable accounts that NTS wouldnt have even considered without VOIP technology, according to Cooper.

Cindy Waxer is a freelance writer in Toronto. Contact her at

/zimages/4/28571.gif Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.