Environmental Start-up Gains PBX Extensions and APIs Sans Environmental or Financial Impact
Brighter Planet, Inc. is an environmental start-up dedicated to providing consumer-friendly solutions to climate change. The outgrowth of an environmental economics course at Middlebury College in 2005, the company sells products and services that allow consumers to help build renewable energy projects that help deter global warming. Environmentally concerned citizens buy or earn the “carbon offsets” created by these projects to reduce their “carbon footprint” – the measure of one’s personal environmental impact.
When planning to move from a tiny corner office to new headquarters in Middlebury, Vt., in 2006, Brighter Planet’s choice of a phone system was between traditional carrier hosting – Centrex service – and hosted IP PBX. A switch that was outsourced and shared with other organizations, taking up just one physical space and one power source, was a good fit with Brighter Planet’s low-impact philosophy and high-tech outlook.
It was also a good fit for the usual practical reasons, according to Seamus Abshere, technology director for Brighter Planet.
“When I saw ‘hosted IP PBX,’ I said that’s great—it’s IP so we get flexibility; it’s hosted, so we don’t have to deal with the maintenance and reliability issues. I wanted to rely on someone who knew how to do it.”
Abshere was able to test the onSIP hosted PBX with a 30-day free trial. He set up a toll-free number ($7 setup fee), recorded greetings and configured extensions via Junction Networks’ Web interface after 15 minutes of study.
Open standards wins the business
Abshere also got bids from four or five other IP PBX hosting services, but onSIP won the business. Junction Networks’ advantage? Their embrace of open standards, says Abshere. That and onSIP’s Web Service APIs, which made onSIP’s functions so easy to integrate with Brighter Planet’s existing applications.
“Open standards meant that we could plug in any SIP phone,” says Abshere. The company got its pick of new IP phones and got to keep its analog Polycom conference system, fitting it with Handytone HT analog terminal adapters.
Through OnSIP’s Web Services API, they were able to embed click-to-call functionality into their internal address books and help desk/ticketing software. They also automated the capture of callers’ contact information.
“When a customer sends us a voice message,” says Abshere, “the OnSIP system delivers it straight into our ticketing system. We can then click on the ticket page to call the customer back, instead of having to dial. Furthermore, we have a record of that call, because it goes through our service first, and then out to the Junction Networks Web Service.”
Open standards and open source have enabled Junction Networks to build its own PBX hosting platform, and with that, gain the flexibility to charge and provision to its own.
Brighter Planet’s Visa Card earns one Earth-Smart™ point for every $1 spent. Points are redeemed monthly to help fund renewable energy projects.
That flexibility, for example, has allowed the company to charge by off-net usage, not by number of extensions. This in turn has made it easy for Brighter Planet to add or subtract extensions, and change offices and equipment without adding telecom cost. For the college-town start-up, this is particularly handy.
Abshere: “One of our great resources is college interns. We’ve also had experienced professionals come to consult. With OnSIP hosting, we’ve been able to add extensions, voicemail, find-me/follow-me, all those sort of things, even if they’ll only be around a month.” Calls between extensions (or to any other SIP phone) are free, since they stay on-net.
Brighter Planet also gets the freedom to use all of OnSIP’s phone functions from any Internet access point, anywhere, by connecting a PC softphone or IP hardware phone.
Find-me/follow-me calls and voice mail
Asked which IP PBX features his coworkers use most, Abshere picks auto attendant and find-me/follow-me, which allows employees to route incoming calls by time of day, caller ID or other parameters. Brighter Planet employees typically use it to forward unanswered calls to cell phones. When calls do go to voicemail, they can be saved as .wav files and e-mailed to their recipients. Voicemails to customer service/help-desk numbers are automatically entered into Brighter Planet’s ticketing system. Extension numbers can also be set up to ring several IP phones in different locations at once (with “multiple registration” to a SIP number), catching people wherever they agree to be caught.
Find-me/follow-me and multiple registration makes a difference to our partners because they know they can always reach us. I know I can always reach my coworkers, too, and all I have to remember is a three-digit extension number,” notes Abshere.
Since Brighter Planet is too new to have before-and-after billing records, Abshere can’t say how much Junction Networks has saved the organization as its voice service provider. But he does credit onSIP with making a difference: “I couldn’t put a number on it, but onSIP's flexibility and use of open standards has been a great fit for a fast-moving startup.”
“When a customer sends us a voice message, OnSIP delivers it straight into our ticketing system. We can then click on the ticket page to call the customer back, instead of dialing. We also have a record of that call, because it goes through our service first.” Seamus Abshere, Brighter Planet