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Speaking Up for VoIP

As Voice over IP matures, more insurance technologists than ever are clearing the hurdles that once hindered the protocol's full potential.

Robert Filipovich, IT manager, Southern Insurance Underwriters (SIU; Alpharetta, Ga.; $130 million in premium) isn't at his desk. He isn't even near a landline. But thanks to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), even if Filipovich is playing hooky, he can be reached via his direct office number.

That's because SIU takes advantage of ShoreTel's (formerly Shoreline Communications; Sunnyvale, Calif.) "find me" feature, an intelligent call-forwarding system that routes calls to Filipovich's cell phone - or wherever else he wants them sent. With the press of a button, callers who reach his office voicemail can have their telephone numbers forwarded to a dynamic sequence of numbers, of Filipovich's choosing, until he is reached.

As callers are kept on hold, Filipovich's cell phone (typically the first option in his sequence of phone numbers) alerts him to the number of the caller who is trying to reach him. Filipovich then can decide if he'd like to take the call or not. Those that make the cut are connected to his cell phone.

This type of call-routing flexibility was one of the major catalysts behind Filipovich's decision to implement VoIP technology in SIU's Orlando office. He decided to make the switch to VoIP last year, when parts for the insurer's antiquated Executone Information Systems (Milford, Conn.) legacy PBX were no longer available. Subsequent to the Orlando rollout, Filipovich expanded SIU's VoIP capabilities to scale the entire organization, and now the underwriter is reaping the benefits of the investment.

Not a Scaredy Cat

Unlike so many insurance technologists who have gone before him, Filipovich wasn't paralyzed by the apprehension surrounding the quality of VoIP service that has plagued so many chief information officers who have considered implementing the technology. His confidence illustrates a changing perception of IP telephony, relative to the technology's maturity. As usability of the eight-year-old platform continues to increase, Filipovich and other IT leaders are emerging to leap hurdles that once limited VoIP technology's full potential.

Filipovich was a fearless advocate for the technology when SIU's executive management raised questions regarding the reliability of a system that sends voice in packets over data networks. "I knew where the technology was at that point," contends Filipovich. "I didn't have any concerns about reliability because I saw what VoIP could do. And after we implemented it, its reliability became a given fact." Part of his confidence was based on the growing selection of products available in the marketplace and his decision to go with ShoreTel's patent-pending distributed architecture.

ShoreTel claims that its VoIP platform is "more reliable than a legacy phone system," according to Rich Winslow, the vendor's senior director of product management. He explains that this is due to ShoreTel's distributed architecture, which consists of "hardware devices that are each equipped with a real-time operating system," Winslow contends. "Each has five nines of reliability [uptime equals 99.999 percent of the time]; they are robust and secure." Winslow explains that if an insurance company has multiple locations, ShoreTel can install a device at each office that has the ability to work with the other locations' devices or independently if need be. For example, if the WAN IP connection is lost, each device can become self-sufficient. "If one loses connection to the WAN, it will operate independently within its own domain," says Winslow. "So if a branch office loses its connection, the users at the office can still make and take calls."

In addition to the availability of enhanced offerings in the marketplace, like those offered by ShoreTel, increasing insurer adoption rates may also be indicative of VoIP's improving usability. More and more insurers are adopting the technology to add additional value to their business, relates Frederic Veron, managing director, BearingPoint (McLean, Va.).

Growing Adoption

Rune Olslund, customer solutions manager, financial services, Cisco Systems (San Jose, Calif.), agrees. He estimates that about 600 insurers have deployed IP telephony in the U.S. (Cisco reports that it has about 200 insurance company clients and holds 36 percent of the market share for IP telephony.) The greater adoption rates reflect increased comfort levels for companies dealing with VoIP, Olslund says. "Although quality concerns may have been an issue two or three years ago, most of that has been left behind us now," asserts Olslund.

Has It Come of Age?

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