The Widening Reach of

By Darrell Dunn  |  Posted 2007-08-27 Print this article Print

Companies are increasingly turning to IP-based systems to replace traditional circuit-switched networks. But how ready are the companies--and the technology--for the next wave of business communications?

Widening Reach

Still, businesses are looking beyond the present-day risks and are concentrating on the potential for IP-based networks. "It doesn't make sense to buy old technology," says Gary Horn, director of enterprise architecture and network security for Advocate Health Care. "We didn't want to be installing 1980s technology in the new millennium."

That was the decision the Chicago-based health-care organization was faced with in 2001 as it looked to upgrade an aging TDM network. With eight hospitals and nearly 100 clinics, doctors' offices and outside-care sites in the Chicago area, Advocate executives viewed IP as a long-term foundation to a unified communications strategy, promising new levels of integration with the organization's data networks.

Beginning in 2002, Advocate worked with Alcatel-Lucent to roll out an IP-based network slowly, implementing a single campus at a time. Today, about 25% of the organization's network is IP-based, with a plan to move to about 75% within the next three years, Horn says.

He believes the IP platform is saving Advocate money in several ways, including freeing up floor space that otherwise would be dedicated to TDM equipment, a reduction in cabling and ease of redeployment in moving users to the new system. Since the company needed to replace the old communications infrastructure anyway, Horn believes there was no additional cost to moving to an IP-based system.

Until a couple of years ago, businesses looked at IP telephony to gain cost savings from VoIP by cutting long-distance tolls. Today, the growing investment across various types of enterprises is driven by enhanced productivity with unified communications platforms such as IP-based audio and video conferencing, unified messaging, and integration with customer- and employee-facing applications. For Advocate, the first benefit from its move to IP was the ability to develop an enhanced nurse call system. With traditional nurse call systems, a patient pushes a bedside button for assistance, sending a signal to the nurses' station; that signal must be answered, and then the message is sent to the appropriate nurse. Nurses at Advocate are now given IP-based wireless phones that allow patient calls to automatically route to the appropriate caregiver, who can respond directly.

Companies are also looking to boost IP telephony for telecommuting and call centers, where businesses are increasingly competing for the best agents. With little reason for most call-center workers to be tied to a specific physical location, businesses like Advocate are using IP-based platforms to allow the call-center agents to work from home.

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