IP telephony upgrade

Fast growth and limited space for expansion meant Arab National Bank needed to update its telephony system. Eliot Beer looks at their new IP solution.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  December 18, 2005

|~|Abou-Ltaif,-Nidal-Avaya200.jpg|~|“By placing communications at the heart of the business, senior management at ANB will gain greater control and visibility” – Nidal Abou-Ltaif, managing director for Avaya MENA|~|Arab National Bank (ANB) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has just completed the implementation of a new IP telephony system for its contact centres. The Riyadh-based bank has opened a new contact centre based purely on IP telephony and is also converting its existing call centre to run on the new technology. The bank has implemented solutions from Avaya, also using Indian integrator Servion. ANB already had an Avaya telephony installation in place, including Avaya private automated branch exchange (PABX) equipment ready to use IP systems. The new solutions include Avaya’s Communication Manager, Interactive Centre, Interactive Response and ContactStore Voice Recorder. Saad Al Khalb, IT manager at ANB, says, “Before this, we were using a standard Avaya telephone system, which supported analogue and digital technology. Now we’ve moved from analogue to digital to IP. “We chose Avaya for two main reasons — first, the existing call centre uses Avaya products, and we were happy with the functionality and their after-sales support. The second reason is that it’s more cost-effective, and a better protection of our original investment, to get an upgrade from Avaya. We were happy with the earlier solution, and we’re even happier with the new technology, especially with Avaya’s focus on the region; they’ve got growing support within the region, and within Saudi Arabia itself.” The previous system at the bank’s contact centre comprised a digital telephone system using fixed lines through a PABX. ANB also has two remote, ‘virtual’ sites in Jeddah and Dammam, which funnel calls from those areas to the main centre at Riyadh. Al Khalb says this was to avoid the high call charges the bank would face for calls originating more than 400km from the call centre. He says the main problems the bank faced were a lack of flexibility, problems with space for new call centre agents and customer service issues resulting from a lack of direct contact to certain specialist departments. ANB has also seen a dramatic increase in its call volumes over the past year. “In January 2005 there were 300,000 calls, and in October 2005, there were more than one million calls,” says Al Khalb. “Our IVR (interactive voice response) utilisation is around 67% as well, but even with this the number of calls our operators are taking is increasing all the time.” Al Khalb says his team looked at solutions from all the major telephony providers, including Cisco, Nortel, Ericsson, Alcatel and British Telecom (BT), over an evaluation period of about eight months. ANB eventually opted for Avaya, based on the fact that the company could deliver all the features offered by the other firms, plus the bank’s existing relationship with the provider, both in terms of technology and service. In terms of the implementation itself, the process was fairly straightforward, as the only equipment which needed to be replaced were the phones, according to Al Khalb. The new IP phones were also relatively inexpensive, at under US$400 each; these are now being phased in at the original contact centre, and are present for all 30 positions in the new centre opened in December. “The new solution will give us a lot more features; with the IP system, compared to the previous solution, performance can be monitored on the phone’s screen, and it will also give us the flexibility to connect agents anywhere throughout the bank,” says Al Khalb. “If for any reason a building is overloaded with people or can’t be used, we can put agents in another building and plug them in, or move them to a location with spare PCs, and they can answer calls. “And if a customer calls with a very specific or a very complicated query, they can be transferred very easily to any other department, where normally there wouldn’t be a call centre agent there. It’s hard to say exactly what the tangible benefits will be in terms of numbers — in six months it should be much clearer — but we’re anticipating big gains in terms of flexibility, customer service and efficiency.” As far as security is concerned, ANB already had very tight security, simply as a result of its position in the financial sector, says Al Khalb. He says the bank sent Avaya a long security checklist of more than 500 items, and Avaya managed to answer every single query the firm had in relation to the system. “The bank’s new IP-based contact centre will enable it to achieve increased levels of reliability and productivity,” says Nidal Abou-Ltaif, managing director for Avaya in the Middle East and North Africa. “By placing communications at the heart of the business, senior management at ANB will gain greater control and visibility, allowing them to seamlessly link the entire workforce together — including customer service agents, branch office employees and knowledge experts in any number of locations.” Al Khalb says the solution will also give ANB the ability to handle large surges of calls easily, without having to set up new specific call centre sites. He says this should improve both the flexibility of the bank’s operations, and the levels of customer service. “We have a disaster recovery site where space is unused, so if we have a big marketing campaign, when we expect a high volume of calls, we can set up a lot of agents there,” he says. “And so far we’ve only tested the Riyadh area, but we’re looking into having agents outside of the city as well — theoretically our agents can work anywhere in the country.” In terms of the future plans for the new IP telephony implementation, Al Khalb says they are planning to expand the number of call centre agents over time. Currently ANB has its original site of 85 operators and the new fully IP-enabled site of 30, and they plan to bring in an additional 150 operator seats by summer 2006, which potentially could be in branches throughout the country, as well as in the main contact centres themselves. “With the fast growth we’re seeing in Saudi Arabia, we’re expecting the bank’s business to keep expanding dramatically,” Al Khalb says. “We don’t know exactly what new developments we’ll see in the future, but this new system will give us the flexibility to cope with the future.” ||**||

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