• United States

VoIP cures agency’s telecom ills

Dec 19, 20053 mins

* Visiting Nurse Association of Boston uses VoIP

You can talk all you want about VoIP lowering costs or simplifying management, but for the Visiting Nurse Association of Boston CIO Fran Lorion, a key test for the technology was how front desk receptionist Lovey Pulsifer would react.

“She was two feet off the floor for the first few days we had the new system,” says Lorion of Pulsifer, who handles 350 calls per day, roughly 200 from patients. “Believe me, she wouldn’t have pulled punches if it wasn’t working.”

The nonprofit agency, which employs about 500 people and provides service to some 15,000 patients per year, ditched a burdensome Centrex contract and an out-dated call center system and switched to a $300,000 in-house IP PBX system this past summer that Lorion says should pay for itself before long.

The reason that the system makes such a difference to Pulsifer, one of several receptionists in the organization, is that it automatically identifies callers by their phone numbers and presents their data on her computer screen as she answers the phone. With patients speaking many languages or having accents, the system cuts down on communication problems. “Most patients seem to like being greeted by name,” she says.

The VNA of Boston is running a converged voice and data network across four sites based on 14 ShoreTel PBXs (1U-high servers) and about twice as many Asante Ethernet switches, which provide power over Ethernet to a few hundred ShoreTel IP phones (the nurses generally don’t require their own IP phones in the office because they are mainly in the field). The VNA has devoted a subnet to its voice traffic, says Dave Hanley, manager of systems operations.

The application supporting Pulsifer involves the ShoreTel system, through its Call Manager software, delivering caller ID information to an application from Traxi Technologies that sits on the receptionist’s desktop (see graphic, next page). The application then grabs the phone number, queries a Microsoft Access database containing a subset of patient data and delivers pertinent information to the receptionist’s desktop.

“The fascinating thing to me about this sort of application is that it wasn’t just built into any of these systems. It seemed so obvious to me that it would be,” says Lorion, who leads a 10-person IT staff. “I mean, haven’t any of these people bought things from L.L. Bean? They’ve had this sort of system for years, right?

“A lot of the vendors can understand this application in a call center environment but hadn’t thought about it for other environments,” he says. “The vendors in this VoIP market seemed much more focused on making a technology replacement as opposed to understanding business problems. That might work in an immature market, but somewhere down the line these guys need to start looking at it as a business solution.”

The VNA reevaluated its phone system as a result of two developments.

First, it was unable to renegotiate a seven-year Verizon Centrex contract that covered 1,000 voice mail boxes, even though the VNA had reduced its workforce in recent years and needed only about 500. “We approached Verizon about this two or three times because it was costing us a fortune and we weren’t getting particularly good service,” Lorion says.

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Bob Brown is executive editor, news, at Network World. Reach him at