Hendrickson keeps on truckin' with UCaaS

Hendrickson International Corporation is a leading global supplier of truck, tractor, bus and recreational vehicle suspension and heavy-duty spring components to the commercial transportation industry.

CIO Rick Johnson will readily describe both the company's products and its manufacturing processes as innovative and state of the art. But when he was asked to categorize the privately held, 95-year-old company's outlook on the use of cutting-edge IT products and services, he had to say it was rather conservative overall.

But Johnson, who has led the Hendrickson IT team for five years, said cloud-based unified communications as a service (UCaaS) was not a hard sell at Hendrickson because it both provided an economical upgrade to the company's outdated and cumbersome Fujitsu PBX and paved the way for more plausible cloud-based applications across the company in the future.

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Hendrickson has close to 20 manufacturing, customer service and product development centers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia and the Pacific Rim. It also has locations in New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil and China.

About a year ago, Hendrickson sought to enhance communication and collaboration among its distributed workforce by moving off its antiquated, expensive, premises-based communications system, because the system offered only limited applications, too little in terms of integration capabilities, and no growth capacity. The company also needed to replace legacy analog telephone lines and wanted to utilize videoconferencing between offices and manufacturing facilities as well as with customers, business partners and sales prospects.

After a due-diligence comparison of the options, Hendrickson ran with ThinkingSuite, a service offered by Thinking Phones Networks -- which Hendrickson pairs with Polycom desktop phones and video bridges. ThinkingSuite combines a powerful business analytics engine for process and workflow visibility, third-party application integration to help merge previously stand-alone systems, and best-in-class UC applications including voice, video, mobility, analytics, IM/presence, contact center, unified messaging and audio/Web collaboration.

In taking in the real cost of the ThinkingSuite deployment versus the purchase of upgraded, on-premise VoIP software and hardware and the continued telecommunications costs, Johnson says that "while the difference was not exactly half the price, it was pretty close to that mark."

Johnson says the service -- which is currently rolled out to more than 500 users and will be expanded to 1,200 users when it is completed later this year -- has surpassed Johnson's expectations in terms of call clarity, disaster recovery parameters and management and monitoring capabilities.

All of Hendrickson's sites have a primary connection to Thinking Phones' data center in Cambridge, Mass., and a backup connection to a second data center in San Francisco. To test the redundancy measure, Johnson's team pulled the circuit to the Cambridge site. Johnson says the service dropped all the calls that were active when the circuit was pulled as expected, and, on cue, within seconds Hendrickson's UCaaS was restored via the San Francisco data center connection.

To help ensure call clarity for both the phones and the audio and video bridge services Hendrickson subscribes to, Johnson's team has implemented quality-of-service parameters on the company's MPLS so that voice traffic is a Class 1 and is always protected from bandwidth issues.

"If there is an issue with a call, say either the timbre or the tenor doesn't sound quite right, we can interact with Thinking Phones customer service immediately and they get to the root cause. They are very responsive," Johnson says.

Thinking Phones' responsiveness is rooted in its ThinkingAnalytics application module which currently comes with every ThinkingSuite subscription, explains David Powers, Thinking Phones vice president of marketing.

ThinkingAnalytics aggregates a common set of data from core ThinkingSuite unified communications applications as well as third-party business applications such as Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics CRM to provide a single vision of organizational health, operational processes and customer interactions.

ThinkingAnalytics delivers cross-functional insights through pre-built reports and queries to commonly asked questions. Guided analysis helps streamline cause-and-effect analysis to determine the root cause of issues and develop best-practice behaviors to solve problems.

Hendrickson has yet to integrate the Thinking Phones service with the Microsoft suite of productivity applications other than opting to have voicemail delivered to users via the Outlook mail client, but Johnson does hope to explore the available connections once the company has upgraded to Office 365 later this summer.

Johnson says the success his company is enjoying with UCaaS will help him pave the way for future cloud-based services in the realm of UCaaS (think more support of mobile devices) at Hendrickson where they make sense.

"Before deploying the Thinking Phones service, I was dealing with some apprehension from both management and the IT team about both security issues and loss of control issues," Johnson says. Post-deployment, he feels he's got plenty of solid data with which he can convince upper management to open up the company's other business processes to the cloud.

To prepare for that eventuality, Johnson says his team is making sure the company's underlying network is up for the challenge in terms of adequate bandwidth -- especially considering 4G service for the last mile, high performance, plenty of redundancy and maintaining relationships with multiple carriers.

"Basically, we're doing everything we can to make sure that as more of our applications get moved outside of the four walls of our data center that we are ready to provide the same if not better class of services to our end users," Johnson says.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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