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AVIVA Sends Voice Over IP

In a bold move, AVIVA goes from a PBX to a voice-over-IP telephony solution.

When AVIVA Life Insurance Co. (North Quincy, MA, $4.3 billion in assets) divested from its P&C group (which is now known as One Beacon), it needed to build its own telephony system. And the life underwriter was basically starting from scratch, relates Greg Partyka, chief technology officer, AVIVA.

With the intention of implementing a PBX (private branch exchange) system similar to the one AVIVA had used before the divestiture, the carrier sent out RFPs in autumn 2001. Led by an external telecom consultant, a team composed of both business and IT representatives began reviewing vendors.

After its RFP was answered by value-added reseller Intelliphone (Andover, MA), AVIVA reviewed Interactive Intelligence's (Indianapolis) call center solution. Although the call center "blew us away," relates Partyka, the team wasn't so sure about 3COM's (Santa Clara, CA) Superstack NBX (network branch exchange) Voice Over IP (VoIP) solution, on whcih the call center would run. "I must admit, at the time, I didn't think that VoIP was ready for prime time in financial services," concedes Partyka, noting the perception of the technology is that as it approaches the support of 400 or 500 phones, its efficiency tops out.

Because AVIVA was a small company with the hopes of growing into a mid-size company, fears that the technology was not scalable enough persisted. But after realizing the efficiencies that could be gained with a VoIP solution, Partyka started to change his outlook. He recognized that AVIVA's IT staff of 12 people who support two locations could easily support a VoIP solution. Economies of scale could be gained because a single provider could be used for voice and Internet communications.

The team decided that 3COM's NBX and Interactive Intelligence's call center would be the best choices. 3COM's NBX, says Partyka, is basically a Unix server designed to make calls. The call center provides functionality such as queue management and voice prompts.

Although he was convinced of the solution's appropriateness for the support of independent agent force calls, Partyka met resistance from the carrier's business side. Instead of giving in and implementing the more commonly used PBX system, Partyka, who believed in VoIP's potential, spent four months researching the technology and mitigating risks. "Although PBX would have been the safest choice," contends Partyka, "it would have been the wrong choice."

During the risk mitigation period that began in January 2002, Partyka explored solutions for risks such as power outages and what would happen if the VoIP telephony solution couldn't handle AVIVA's call volumes. Mitigation strategies included the installation of battery backups and keeping a certain number of telephones runing on a PBX on each user's desktop for a limited period as a "back-up" net.

Executive Committee Approval

Partyka sought and received executive committee approval for his project in April 2002 and in May AVIVA began converting to its new networking equipment. Throughout May and June call flows were designed and defined with the business customers. During July, testing took place, and the system went live in August.

As a final stress test the VoIP solution was rolled out to AVIVA's biggest call center on the first day it went live. "It would have been easier to have the system support one of the smaller call centers first, but that wouldn't have been a good test of volume," says Partyka. "In a show of faith the business decided that we should go with the big one first." In October 2002 the system was also installed in AVIVA's Buffalo, NY, office. As a result of the VoIP implementation, AVIVA has lowered its total cost of ownership. "The same employees who manage our PCs are the managers of our phone desktops," relates Partyka.

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COMPANY: AVIVA Life Insurance Co., North Quincy, MA, $4.3 billion in assets.

LINES OF BUSINESS: Life and annuities.

VENDOR/TECHNOLOGY: Interactive Intelligence's (Indianapolis) call center, 3COM's (Santa Clara, CA) Superstack NBX VoIP solution.

CHALLENGE: Implement a new telephony system, starting from scratch.

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