Exetel is a communications services provider that has been operating since January 2004 in its current form. With over 100,000 customers and a monthly revenue in excess of $5,000,000 serviced by a total of 60 employees, Exetel has always been a very efficient company and had depended on constantly automating and refining every aspect of its business processes to maintain its ability to survive and grow in fiercely competitive marketplaces.
Exetel, since its inception, designed its customer and prospective customer interfaces to be operated 'remotely' by telephone or by email or via its web site's on line functions; no face to face contacts have been or are currently used.
When Exetel moved in to its previous commercial premises in March 2004 it installed a basic key station system (a Hybrex GDS 600) with, initially 4 handsets and six ISDN lines (3 Telstra BRIs).
This basic key station had enough functionality (call hold, transfer, multiple callers, voice mail, after hours messaging etc) to meet the needs of the business at the time of installation and, with some upgrades to handle growing staff numbers, worked relatively effectively for slightly more than two years before being phased out in March through April of 2006.
At the time of being phased out it had been upgraded to handle up to 24 handsets and there were 12 incoming lines provided by 6 Telstra BRIs.
In October 2005 Exetel implemented a second telephony service based on VoIP. The VoIP telephone services were not used by the Engineering and other staff who took incoming support and provisioning calls from customers but were used by the management and non-customer support personnel to "live" trial VoIP call quality and reliability using Exetel's own VoIP services.
However the key reason for beginning the implementation of VoIP (far more important to Exetel than the lower call costs) was to start the process of using 21st Century telephone functions that were linked to and based on Exetel's data base systems.
Prior to the full implementation of a dedicated VoIP PABX Exetel used a "software PABX" based on the Asterisk public domain program suite. This "software PABX" was used to test out the use of voice messaging based on programs written to send pre-recorded messages to Exetel's customers and applicants to keep them informed of the progress of their application or, once they became customers, to advise them of matters that affected them such as the imminent expiry of their credit card or planned downtime of their Exetel service.
The principal requirement of the previous Hybrex telephone system at Exetel, from the first day it became operational until the last minute before it received its last incoming call, was to allow prospective customers and customers to contact Exetel.
This system was able to handle up to 1,000 incoming calls per day and service the telephone needs of the 24 people employed by Exetel at the time it was phased out.
The primary function was to provide incoming call handling for the (in its last months of operation)12 engineers providing support to Exetel's users and the 4 people who dealt with billing, accounting and other customer related enquiries.
The VoIP service was used by the eight other people and, more importantly, by the Exetel database to more effectively inform Exetel's customer of key issues that affected them.
The previous Hybrex GDS 600 had reached the limits of its useful life for Exetel, not because of its age or reliability, but because Exetel required a far greater level of functionality.
Exetel looked at 'conventional' PABXs and any major brand would have met our needs but the pricing of all of the ones we looked at were far more than we were prepared to pay and none of them had the ease of interface to the Asterisk/Database functionality that we required.
We looked at several VoIP solutions before deciding on our current Mitel 3300 MX system.
The 'fors' for the selection of Mitel were:
The 'againsts' for the selection of Mitel were:
The migration was done, purposely, slowly over a six week period. The migration for us was made easier by the fact that our office was already wired for Ethernet as each employee in our office had a work station and we connected the new handsets to the established Ethernet cabling (daisy chaining the computers via the handsets to the Mitel).
Our migration was to program the Mitel with the functionality required for each of the first 8 users (those using the Asterisk VoIP service) first using a newly installed PRI (with ten lines) to ensure that we could activate all of the required functions without disturbing the incoming customer calls.
Once that had been done we upgraded the PRI to 20 lines and installed new Mitel handsets on each of the support engineer's computers and on each of the accounting and provisioning people's computers – leaving their Hybrex handsets in place and still delivering incoming calls via the 6 BRIs and the advertised Exetel contact numbers.
We distributed a brief "how to use" summary to each user based on the experiences of the initial group of users and did some one on one explanation to those people who wanted it.
We then diverted our 'old' contact numbers to the new PRI range of numbers, we changed our web site to show the new numbers and went 'live' with the new system in terms of receiving and making all "human" calls on Tuesday April 17th. We then cancelled the six BRIs and removed the Hybrex handsets from the desks.
We continued to use the Asterisk server to make the data base generated calls until June 1st when all incoming and outgoing telephone calls were cut over to the Mitel.
We encountered no problems at any point in the migration process. The installation of the hardware and the configuration of the software were painless and, even though we were doing it for the first time, went quickly and without encountering any real 'obstacles'.
In May 2009, Exetel relocated its business premises within North Sydney and the relocation of the Mitel system proceeded without any problems.
For a conceptual diagram on the Exetel Mitel set up please click here.
1) "Million Dollar PABX Capabilities" For Less than $30,000
The Mitel 3300 has all of the features of the most sophisticated 'conventional' PABX at a tiny fraction of the price. Not only in terms of the once off cost but we don't need a contractor (or a maintenance contract) to make changes and additions as we use more facilities and add more people.
(Estimated savings $350 per month)
2) Much Lower Call Costs
Exetel buys both toll telephone and VoIP telephone minutes at wholesale rates so call cost savings are not huge for us. Having said that, by using VoIP instead of toll minutes we have cut our monthly telephone call costs by 50%.
(Estimated saving $2,500 per month)
3) Providing Remote Users With Telephone Connectivity)
Since "Day One" Exetel has had people who worked from their homes; one in Perth and one a few kilometers away from the office in North Sydney. They are now able to have calls transferred to them that are received in the North Sydney office and to call extensions in the North Sydney office and they do this at no cost (using their home Internet connections for VoIP).
After proving the efficiency and quality of this function we then implemented it to connect employees in Canberra, Gosford (Central Coast of NSW) and Sri Lanka who provide out of hours customer support. Again, this will provide them with the ability to receive calls switched from the North Sydney office and to call any person in the North Sydney office (or anywhere else in Australia) from Sri Lanka at no telephone call cost.
(Estimated saving $5,000 per month)
4) Low Cost 1300 Services
From May 2007 we used the Mitel system and VoIP to provide 1300 access to customers around Australia therefore incurring no telephone call cost to Exetel.
A further two 1300 numbers were added in 2009 for our Mobile Broadband and country broadband services.
We had never been able to afford to offer this service before because of the cost but we can now do this at effectively no cost.
(Estimated saving $4,000 per month)
5) Automation Of Customer service issue Logging
We are now able to allow any customer to log a service issue using the Mitel 3300 linked to the Asterisk server. This allows a customer to both log a service issue and have it sent through to the appropriate carrier 24 x 7 x 365 and eliminates the requirement for the customer to speak to a help desk engineer. This reduced the number of support personnel who manually logged customer calls by two people.
(Estimated saving $25,000 per month)
Exetel has moved from a 'conventional Key Station' telephone system to a VoIP system without any change over disruptions and at a net operational cost saving of over $10,000 per month.
We have also been able to deploy new uses of telephone communications that have added significant sales and support capabilities to our company that have driven our operational efficiencies to levels that were impossible to obtain using 'conventional' telephone systems.
Exetel can provide all of these services to any other commercial organisation looking not only to reduce their telephone costs but to add efficiencies and functionality that has previously been unaffordable.