The cornerstone of the Schumacher Homes customer experience is its design centers. In them, customers start by choosing a design plan, then customize it with the help of one of the company’s consultants until it is transformed into their dream home. It is a very data-intensive process requiring large amounts of bandwidth between the design center and the company’s centralized applications, especially when several design centers are active at once.
As originally created, all of the design centers were networked back to the headquarters office in Canton, Ohio. The entire enterprise was sharing a 3 meg internet connection and at peak times the traffic had a tendency to choke the network, slowing the design process. If the Canton headquarters went down, all of the design centers came to a standstill until the issue was resolved. In addition to the network issues, the company’s telephony situation was less than optimal.
“Each office had its own locally managed phone system that worked on standard telephone lines,” said Will McCann, senior IT manager at Schumacher Homes. “If there was a problem, there was little the IT department could do to help them. It was also expensive. There are roughly 500 to 600 calls per day between the design centers and headquarters. The long distance bill alone was enormous.”
Overall, McCann felt there were too many potential high-level points of failure in the system. He wanted to revamp the network, provide more control over its traffic, gain more protection against outages, and move to an IP Telephony platform to reduce overall cost. He also wanted to find a partner that could host and manage all the technology.
Although he considered several options, McCann found one to be the perfect fit: West Unified Communications Services, a Cisco-Powered Managed Unified Communications solution provider with its own proprietary managed services offering, VoiceMaxx, built on a Cisco network.
West UC solutions design engineers proposed building an MPLS network using Cisco routers and switches. The MPLS backbone would then be used to deliver both voice and data and provide levels of redundancy and resiliency that Schumacher had been unable to achieve before. In addition, MaxxSecure, a cloud-based unified threat management solution, replaced the old firewall, improving security and reporting on web usage.
The new MPLS network has enabled Schumacher Homes to prioritize network traffic. Rather than working on a first-come, first-served basis, it allows critical data (such as that needed for home design) to be delivered ahead of non-time-sensitive data such as email. McCann reports that it has eliminated the interminable waits that used to slow down the process, improving customer service and perception. VoiceMaxx has also delivered on the promise of increasing uptime for the remote design centers.
“Now if there’s a problem in Canton, the remote locations are able to keep working,” he said. “The reliability has been outstanding, too. We have yet to have anything not work due to internal network problems. If Canton or a remote location does go down due to a lightning strike or other factor like that, West is on the phone with us right away to let us know they’re taking care of it.”
The voice communication part of the upgrade has been a major benefit to Schumacher Homes, both in terms of quality and cost.
“Calling from a remote location to the main office to get information used to be a chore,” McCann said. “Not anymore. With four-digit dialing and our Cisco IP phones, it’s easy to reach anyone in the company.”
Schumacher Homes has seen its phone bill cut in half, from $40,000/month on average for internet and $23,000/month for the actual calls to an average of $31,000/month for everything. McCann says everything West UC has done and continues to do confirms that the company was the right choice for the project.
“In any kind of big change, you’re going to be a little nervous,” he said. “Yet it went smoothly, and we finished two months ahead of schedule with no glitches. When it was done it’s not like they disappeared off the radar either. Our solution manager is constantly checking in with us, letting us know if there is anything new or changes we need to make. I’m very happy we selected West.”