CNET gives a voice to voice over Internet Protocol

CNET Networks, Inc. implemented VoIP technology to take the place of its aging telephone system. The technology integrates the company's desktops with Microsoft Outlook and now communication between CNET's various locations is easier.

Imagine if upon simply receiving a phone call, you could automatically create a new contact in Microsoft Outlook. Thanks to voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, CNET Networks, Inc. now enjoys that feature and many more.

With news as its business and 20 locations worldwide, CNET needs to have an excellent means of site-to-site communication, said Don McGill, CNET's director of voice engineering. So, the news network recently chose VoIP to upgrade from its aging telephone system.

CNET's long-used private branch exchange (PBX) system was no longer up to snuff. Finding a more effective, yet cost-efficient way to integrate the communication between CNET's various locations was needed, McGill said. "We were also looking for a way to integrate voicemail into Outlook." But keeping the technology simple for CNET's 2,000 employees to use was a must.

From his experience as a consultant, McGill knew an "IP type" solution would fit CNET's needs. He and his team spent days in demonstrations and spoke to customers who use San Jose, Calif.'s Cisco Systems' AVVID system and Shoreline Systems' Shoreline 3 Communications System. In the end, CNET selected Shoreline's system.

Cisco's AVVID, which is essentially a handset plugged into a PC, was too complicated and expensive, McGill said. It offered more functionality than CNET needed; McGill worried it would not integrate well with new features either. Further, he worried managing it would be confusing.

So, earlier this year, CNET began the move to Shoreline's VoIP system with 400 of its San Francisco, Calif. and New Jersey-based employees. That move took place concurrently with the San Francisco headquarters' move to a new building.

With the Shoreline 3 Communications System, users have two components: their analog telephone and a Windows-based desktop software client called Personal Call Manager (PCM). But, "the idea is that the phone is not as important," McGill said.

PCM resides on the desktop as a window or tool bar and provides all call controls, McGill said. Using keyboard shortcuts and the PCM interface, users can make, transfer and hold calls. Phone calls can even be forwarded to a cell phone. All phone numbers can easily be imported to Outlook as contacts.

Incoming calls are displayed in PCM via Caller ID. Even if the user is already on the phone, they can transfer other incoming calls to a different user's line or send the call directly to voicemail. PCM can hold up to 16 calls at once, said McGill, and a call history displays any missed calls.

McGill and two other employees, one of which is located in Cambridge, Mass., implemented the entire system themselves. They set up the server and programmed the database before employees moved to the new building. So, when the employees arrived, McGill just assigned the ports and put the switches in the right place.

Training played an important role in getting CNET's employees accustomed to the new voice platform, McGill said. Using a test lab, Marlboro, NJ-based Shoreline set up 15 desktops and phones with the technology. The already PC-savvy employees were trained in one-hour classes and learned quickly, he said.

Configuration is simple enough that even employees who travel frequently can easily hook up their laptops if not in their native offices, said McGill. Voicemail and phone extensions are accessible from any office by logging in with a PIN number.

The new system has freed McGill from solving many of his user's phone-related problems; users can often troubleshoot their own problems. "This provides our user community with a much easier and more flexible communications tool," McGill said.

McGill will move the San Francisco offices remaining 150 employees who are not currently using the Shoreline system this month. He expects CNET's other locations, some of which are very small, to be on the system within the next couple years.

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