Thursday, January 8, 2009

Adventures in VOIP part 3

For those who may have missed the first parts, you can read them here and here.

So on Dec. 18 we rolled out our VOIP setup. Not the greatest time from a learning curve standpoint (who doesn't forget things over a long weekend), but it made perfect sense from a business standpoint. It was just slow enough to provide stress free time to learn it. And it worked out that I had no other projects so I could sit with the receptionist and make sure she had a handle on what was going on. In these first few weeks have been interesting since we are finding out all sort of things that were overlooked and just plain overlooked during our rushed planning/implementation cycle. I think a few people are starting to learn why we asked to do this last year...

Anyway, the first complaint registered came from the receptionists (our payroll persons doubles as a receptionist when things get busy). When you rush through things, you tend to implement things before you fully understand the ramifications for doing so. As mentioned in the earlier adventures, we went with Linksys SPA942 phones. While being dead easy to setup, we did realize that they were less flexible than some of the other alternatives that we looked at. The problem the receptionists noticed deals with the placement of transfer and blind transfer. For some pointless reason, if you have four buttons on a phone for options, Linksys decided that you need to have two options immediately available and two more available from another one. Unfortunately one of these other options is blind transfer. For those who do not answer/route calls on a daily basis this means you have additional button presses just to dump off a call (not so bad). It also means that the caller ID is not passed on either (bad). So every call transferred through looks like it is coming from the receptionist and not from the outside world. From what my boss tells me, complaints have been registered with Linksys by more than a few people about this. We're hoping they fix it in the next firmware release, but if anyone has a good solution, please let me know.

The second complaint from the receptionists is that the Flash Operator Panel (FOP) does not show Do not Disturb(DND) or Call Forward(CFWD) status. Our old system could handle this (it underlined the extension if someone turned on DND/CFWD), but for whatever reason this feature is not implemented natively. I stumbled across a solution a few weeks ago, and it is currently on my list of things to do.

Our third complaint was actually registered by much of the shop. On our old system, dialing an extension used the intercom function on the phones. So if I dialed a department I pretty much just started talking. Now, the phone just rings. When a call rings more than 20 seconds at the receptionist's desk it will ring through the shop. So unless you are paying attention to your caller ID, you could end up talking to a customer that you really did not want to talk to. We haven't decided how we are going to fix it yet. We're leaning towards either configuring another line for internal calls and putting a different ring tone on it, or going with intercom functions to emulate the old functionality. This is also on my todo list, but somewhere near the bottom of it.

Complaint number four brings us back to one of the receptionists. She was telling us that there were not enough lines available on the phone. Well, thankfully I have a solution to implement this time. The Aastra 480i phones I mentioned in the first go round will no longer gather dust. With their ability to handle nine lines, I am just going to install those for them once I get them completely configured/figured out.

The rest of the issues I remember off the top of my head all come from us here in IT. The distro we are using, Elastix, just does not seem to be fitting out needs properly. When we started the project we knew there were other alternatives, so we broke down and installed one of them. In this case, we installed Trixbox. It has a lot in common with Elastix, with the added bonus of better support forums and actual support from several major phone manufacturers. Thankfully, it is also similar enough that I can just direct port some of our configurations. So testing is commencing on that for now with a good chance that we will be porting over to it some time in the near future.

This has been a real learning experience for us here, and I am glad to be working on it (even if I am sick of phones already). So if any of you have any more tidbits or pointers, please feel free to share.