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11/4/2004
04:28 PM
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Tax Firm Deploys Unified Messaging

Grant Thorton looks to put traveling workers more in touch with clients and co-workers.

Grant Thornton International puts hundreds of tax and accounting advisers on the road every day to meet with business clients and provide guidance on financial issues. To make it easier for those traveling workers to stay in touch with clients and co-workers, the firm deployed a unified-messaging system this week that will save hundreds of thousands of dollars and make it simple to send, retrieve, and work with a variety of message types.

The firm, with 50 U.S. locations and around 3,700 employees, deployed Unified Messenger software from Avaya on four Compaq servers to provide its advisers with a single mailbox for all voice mail, E-mail, and fax messages. The system lets them retrieve voice messages on their PCs; have E-mails read to them over the phone using text-to-speech conversion or have E-mail and attachments sent to a fax machine for printing, and retrieval, editing; and send faxes while on the road.

"We used to have E-mail servers at 48 locations and a lot of costs associated with servers, software, and administration," says Kevin Lopez, national telecommunications manager. "Now we only need four servers to cover the entire nation, and we're using the bandwidth on our WAN to carry the traffic."

The move is saving the firm $400,000 on the cost of servers. Additional savings comes from reduced maintenance and support. "It also provides our people with more time during the day to work with clients," Lopez says. "I figure it will pay for itself in a year and a half."

The goal is to give mobile workers access to everything they would have in the office by adding the messaging software to their laptop computers. "The next logical step will be to provide the mobile workers with an IP phone that they can plug into their laptop," Lopez says, although he doesn't have a timetable for that move.

Grant Thornton, which has 585 offices in 110 countries, is moving cautiously toward unified communications and will maintain separate voice and data networks for a while. "The easiest way to maintain quality of service is to run two T-1s, one for voice and one for data. It may not be the lowest-cost approach, but it provides better security," Lopez says. He's worried that the security threats and denial-of-service attacks that hit data networks would harm the firm's ability to maintain voice communications if he ran everything on one network. "Why make big changes that make yourself more vulnerable?"

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