Dial-in a new line

Technology is moving ahead at a ferocious rate and law firms are increasingly concerned about the investment needed to keep their business infrastructure up to date. In particular, they need to be attuned to changes in working practices in order to fully respond to client needs.

Telephones are at the heart of Osborne Clarke's communications system and logical upgrades are vital to protect the value of large past investments.

Our purchase of a GPT iSDX switch in 1988 was a happy one in a time of rapid growth. The first of the new generation of digital switches, it provided most of the voice handling facilities for call redirection, hunting and pickup. It has since absorbed all the additional demands for expansion until 1994 when we needed more capacity for a new conference suite.

Our two Bristol offices lie within 100 yards of each other and house 250 people and there is the option to use an existing fibre optic cable to run intersite telephone traffic. Also recently installed is a new kilostream line to our London office that carries both voice and data.

The supplier's brief was to provide:

More extensions for the conference suite;

Higher resilience to cope with disaster/breakdown of the main switch;

A sensible upgrade path to meet tomorrow's needs without endangering today's investment;

Greater functionality to improve efficiency and customer service.

After taking advice from a consultant, we approached major suppliers to select:

Network operators – there were several to choose from including BT, Mercury, Energis, ACC and Worldcomm. Local cable network operators such as United Artists and other new entrants all offered competitive rates;

Equipment – BT's Meridian range, GPT's iSDX and the Ericsson MD110 were looked at.

We chose Siemens/GPT with whom we had good working relations. These are as vital as sound and continuous planning, installation and reliable maintenance. The company presented an integrated and innovative package and the cost advantage of having easily upgradable equipment already on-site clearly helped.

As a result the firm now has an independent, though linked, switch in its second building and has expanded its original installation. Standards in place are voice mail, ISDN 2 and ISDN 30.

The new facilities are automatic call logging, least cost routing and direct dialling in (DDI) which take pressure off our telephone operators by cutting out the middleman and speeds up client access to fee earners. We intend to sell DDI hard to all employees and encourage its use.

Voice mail software has been seamlessly integrated and the real task now is to change cultures firmwide. A full training programme was an essential part of the deal.

An interesting twist in the proposal was to install used equipment in the separate node that gives the second building its independence. GPT's Assura scheme offered a leading range of high quality second-hand products which was financially attractive, can cover complete configurations and cut installation times dramatically. GPT also co-ordinated arrangements with network suppliers.

Technically, we must plan for the office of the future. ISDN 2 already provides us with a digital framework in an emerging world of multimedia. This allows us to develop both video conferencing and our capacity for fast file transfer and local area networks for computers. These are essential tools to deal with data from clients, intermediaries and suppliers as well as internal needs.

No firm's experience will be the same but the consensus here is that we have undertaken a major conversion at reasonable cost and with little pain. We now have the benefits to exploit.

Nick Jones is chief executive at Osborne Clarke.