Disaster-Proofing a Small Service Business
Northshore Paralegal Services, Danvers, MA, is a small business serving the Boston area with background screening for clients’ potential hires and title abstracting for the mortgage industry. About a year ago, President Ted Lannon took note of a steady news stream of natural and man-made disasters and began feeling a little vulnerable about his company. The heart of his business –– all his files, servers and applications –– depended on the smooth and uninterrupted functioning of his software, hardware and physical infrastructure. He also began to feel too thinly spread. With a seven-person staff, all IT and telecom maintenance and support fell on his shoulders. His answer: virtualizing the service firm’s operation.
Lannon kept his office, but started moving his software and hardware maintenance burden out the door, to Application Service Providers (ASPs). The primary business ASP he chose was Oracle-based NetSuite. The phone system and service provider was Junction Networks, New York.
From in-house servers and PBX to ASP and VSP/Host
Out went the on-premise servers: a Microsoft Small Business server with email and authentication; a QuickBooks server for general ledger, accounts payable, and all but one file server. Also off the wall and out the door: Lannon’s Norstar Compact ICS 6-by-24 phone system and extensions.
"I wanted to take my business and make it virtual," says Lannon. "I wanted to do away with office Quickbooks, where everyone had to go through the LAN. I wanted to do away with doing my own authentication. I shifted to the ASP model because I wanted fault tolerance in case of a disaster."
Lannon also wanted to provide his remote employee in Virginia – and anyone working from home – with the same services they could use in the office. And lastly, he wanted to shed full responsibility for server and phone system maintenance without hiring IT staff.
On the voice side, he exchanged the Nortel Norstar on the wall and its extensions for some new Polycom IP handsets, found on the Web for a couple hundred dollars each. "They work fantastically, with great voice quality," Lannon says. He disconnected all but one (for fax) of his Verizon lines and replaced that and the Norstar system with Junction Networks’ onSIP hosted IP PBX service.
With Verizon DSL disconnected too, Lannon now runs both voice and data over his Comcast for Business broadband connection, with 10MB download, 1.5MB up. Because phone calls are all routed over IP, and applications all browser-based, location has become almost irrelevant to his business." "Not being tied to a physical location is fantastic. If a disaster happens, I just work from home and send the insurance guys in to replace my equipment." His employees can work from home as well, with broadband, PC and a software or hardware SIP phone. Lannon keeps a redundant drive of the one file server on the premises in a fireproof box. If he ever wants to move his office, he just packs the phones and reconnects to the Internet; the phones reregister themselves to onSIP and the staff continues working as before.
No devices on the network; no per-seat phone charges
Junction Networks allowed Lannon to take the hosting model as far as it goes: "Some IP PBX hosts are hardware-software combos, where you plug a box in the office and coordinate between lines and SIP. I didn’t want another device on my network. All changes should make my operation simpler, and not more complex. Also, other companies wanted to charge per seat. Junction Networks basically charges per application and per minute. Paying for circuits was always painful, as well as all those ridiculous little fees." Especially now, when the real estate slump is keeping staff count on the low side, he appreciates not having to pay for idle or low-traffic lines.
Business continuity aside, Lannon has gained other benefits from onSIP. He now dials his seven extensions by two-digit numbers, including the one in Virginia. He can work at home without missing calls, since onSIP can ring two or more phones at once if they’re registered to the same SIP number. He also likes getting voicemails in his email box; "My emails hit me at home the same way they do in the office."
What about money? "Oh yes, money. It’s a significant discount," Lannon remembers. His monthly Verizon bill came in between $400 and $600, he says, while he’s spending about $100 now, automatically drawn via credit card.
Most calls to Northshore Paralegal are for service or questions related to accounting, and are routed by front-end voice menu. While the system ensures that all calls are answered by ringing multiple phones simultaneously, Lannon is thinking of adding onSIP’s ACD application; this will automatically route callers to the next available staff person. And while the Web-based setup he used a year ago took a fair amount of handholding (he credits Mike Oeth, Junction Networks’ CEO, with helping him get running) he notes that Junction Network’s new onSIP GUI should make self-provisioning much easier.
So bottom line? Lannon: "Overall, for small businesses with multiple needs and locations, you can’t really beat it."