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Sprint saved millions of dollars through Unified Communications upgrade

Much of the benefits of unified communications (UC) technology had always been about better communication and collaboration between workers, faster time-to-market, and the ability to get better talents. But the wireless carrier Sprint Nextel has made a more compelling reason to shift to UC when it has saved US$12.85 million by adopting UC Polycom equipment and Microsoft Lync software.

The large savings have come from reduced local exchange carrier circuit costs, avoiding the purchase of new PBX systems, and lower conference call costs and other expenses. Joe Hamblin, senior manager of enterprise communications and collaboration at Sprint, explained how the company deployed UC during a webcast with representatives from Polycom and Microsoft. Polycom released the CX7000 UC room video collaboration appliance last July that comes pre-integrated with Microsoft Lync. This December, the CX7000 became generally available and Polycom expanded Lync interoperability to additional Polycom SIP-based wired and wireless voice products.

Hamblin narrated Sprint began its transition to UC in 2006 when it struggled with managing and maintaining 490 Nortel post branch exchange (PBX) systems across its enterprise. Because those PBXes only connected desk phones, they could not serve workers who were increasingly becoming mobile and were using cell phones when in field work. "We were no longer working in our offices like we used to in the old days," Hamblin said.

Furthermore, his IT staff was constantly busy with "moves, adds and changes"; that is, installing brand new phones, replacing old ones, or transferring equipment when an employee switched offices. In 2007, Sprint performed some 8,000 such tasks, he said. Sprint decided the decentralized PBX system had to be replaced. "We knew we wanted to get centralized so how do we take all these decentralized PBXes and come up with a solution that we can manage with less infrastructure and very centralized?" Hamblin asked himself.

Sprint looked into VoIP technology and considered four different solutions "and all four of them failed miserably," he said. Sprint began using Microsoft Office Live Communications Server for instant messaging and found out that the user interface had a "Call" button on it, he said. Later on, 200 Sprint workers were using the Live Communications Server for making voice calls. Today Sprint is upgrading to the Polycom CX7000 video collaboration appliance embedded with Lync.

Aside from the money Sprint has already saved, Hamblin said the company believes it can save US$20 million every year in reduced real estate and related IT expenses because it needs less office space.

While proving real cost savings from UC, Hamblin also understands the other benefits of collaboration in terms of better decision-making, faster time-to-market, and business success. "As you look at what you want your company to be in the next two years, you have to think about it from an IT perspective. How can we give our organization a competitive advantage?" he added.