SALT LAKE CITY – Mountain America Credit Union is riding the latest wave of telecommunications technology, reaping big savings and new efficiencies. The $1.4 billion CU has deployed an IP telephony system that its senior technology officer says already is saving Mountain America $50,000 a year in long-distance charges between its home office and far-flung branches, with new functionalities coming on line that will directly enhance member services, as well. “We’re very confident that this system will carry us well into the future,” says Annette Zimmerman, Mountain America’s senior vice president and CIO. “It’s scalable for adding branches and staff, and the functionality just keeps growing fast and furious. It’s already given us improvements across the board,” says Zimmerman, who’s also on the executive committee of the CUNA Technology Council. The IP in IP telephony stands for Internet protocol, the online communications standard used to connect computers around the world, and the telephony part refers to the convergence of telephone service and computer networks. IP telephony has been taking off lately, a few years after voice-over IP (VoIP) began establishing itself, and is emerging as a potential competitor for traditional phone service around the country as cable providers like Comcast and Time Warner begin offering phone service, too. Mountain America has been using VoIP for about three years, pushing voice and data over its T-1 lines to its more than 40 locations in four states. It also now is getting heavily into IP telephony, replacing its traditional PBX automated call distribution and voice mail system with Cisco’s Call Manager and Internet Protocol Contact Center (IPCC) platforms. About 265 of Mountain America’s 615 employees are already on the new phone system, which features Cisco’s 7970 series handsets with color touch screens. “We were one of the first Cisco customers in the nation to get those,” Zimmerman says. The changeover from PBX to IPT began in earnest with the CU’s move into its new headquarters in January 2004 and has been extended to two branches. That will continue as the older PBX systems need replaced over time. The advantages of the new IP phone system are many, including portability. “When an employee moves from one location to another, as we did into our new building, you simply take the phone with you and plug it into the system there, and you have all your old settings and any new ones automatically in place,” Zimmerman says. The IP telephony system also integrates e-mail, voice mail and faxes at the desktop, the Mountain America CIO says. “Employees can access all of these communications using their Microsoft Exchange desktop software,” Zimmerman says. “For example, when I’m traveling, I can access my voice mail on my laptop using a wireless connection. “The touch screens are also very intuitive and easy to use, and really, the whole system is,” she adds. Far more than telephone calls are going back and forth over those T1 lines. “We’re also working on bringing teleconferencing and videoconferencing up on the system,” Zimmerman says. “That will reduce travel expenses for us organizationally, and we’re testing Cisco IP TV, which will allow us to push PowerPoint presentations and voice in ways that we can then do interactive training between our headquarters and our branches.” Mountain America also is preparing to use its IP telephony system to offer Web collaboration services to members through its call center. “The members can choose from voice, e-mail or chat, or initiate a call back using an Internet `call me’ button,” Zimmerman says. Using key words, the requests are then sent to the correct staffer through the use of a skills-based routing system. Web collaboration technology also will allow call center staffers to “share” the member’s browser in order to do such things as help complete application forms. A robust e-mail FAQ and routing system also is in the works. Marketing also benefits. “We use Cisco’s content manager to enable our marketing department to push video of product information, commercials, news and weather to 48-inch screens in our branches,” Zimmerman says. And from her perspective as the CIO, there are management advantages, too. “It is much easier for us to hire a network person to manage telecommunications across the credit union than it is to pay a third party to manage a proprietary phone system,” Zimmerman says. “We went from three separate maintenance contracts to just one with Mountain States Networking to manage our telecommunications.” The IP telephone system at Mountain America runs on servers, including redundant machines in a branch 40 miles from the corporate office to serve as backup. “We can route calls to servers anywhere on our WAN. You cannot do that with a traditional PBX,” Zimmerman says. “I know a lot of people are concerned about the reliability of an IP telephone system, but during 2004, our first year on this system, we experienced minimal downtime and much less down time than we experienced in 2003.” Zimmerman also has become a big fan of the leading vendor of Internet switches and routers. She also recently served with three bank executives on a Cisco panel at the recent BAI financial services technology trade show in Las Vegas. “It was a first for me but they’ve done it a few times,” Zimmerman says. “The discussion was called `The Branch of the Future’ and it was a lot of fun and a completely new experience for me. Cisco taped it, too, and used excerpts from the panel discussion and personal interviews to create a `customer success stories’ ad on their Web site.” Zimmerman is not alone in her affinity for Cisco solutions. Cisco Systems ranked first in a survey of 567 corporate IP telephony users ranking their satisfaction, according to a recent Yankee Group report, followed by IBM. And Zimmerman’s confidence in the future of the technology itself is shared by Forrester Research analyst Elizabeth Herrell, who in a report titled “Trends 2005: IP Telephony” says “IPT has lost its immature label and is now generally favored as the migration path for PBX systems.” Herrell adds: “IP telephony is the flagship product of all major telephone equipment providers and is the primary platform for future product enhancements. It also protects a company’s investment in communications by providing the foundation for future enhancements and new functionality.” -

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