Hanging on the telephone

The Norwich office of Eversheds recently upgraded its telephone systems to provide a greater level of client service by the introduction of direct dialling to the telephones on all lawyer's desks, one contact number for the multi-site Norwich operation and voice mail.

Eversheds briefed three large suppliers of voice telecommunications systems to explain current problems and objectives. We also wanted to tap their knowledge of the marketplace and discover the benefits we might gain from installing new systems.

The attitude of the suppliers varied enormously. At one end of the scale we were expected to specify our requirements exactly so that the catalogue could be consulted for the prices. At the other end was the willingness of the supplier to understand our business and then produce a series of options with the case for and against, involving not only costs but also the likely reaction of our lawyers and staff as well as our clients to any new facilities.

We eventually installed tandem switches, supplied by GPT, one in each of the two main buildings. The switches are linked together with a high- speed fibre optic link and to any of the users or callers this network appears as one entity. One main number is used and there is one location for the operators. In the case of a disaster at one of the buildings we have the ability to use the other switch and could provide an emergency backup if needed.

We have fibre optic ISDN circuits from the BT exchange to each building and a number of copper circuits that act as an emergency service. These fibre optic and copper circuits enter the buildings by a number of different routes to reduce the possibility of a "Fred digging up the phones" problem.

The introduction of direct dialling in (DDI) coupled with needing only one switchboard resulted in a significant saving of operator time and increased the degree of client access to our lawyers. To the caller, this facility provides the appearance of each lawyer having a personal telephone number and yet the total number of lines used on the switch is not increased. Plus there is the added benefit of out of hours service.

We are in the final phase of piloting our integrated voice mail system. We were most concerned to protect those clients who did not want to talk to a machine, yet still provide this service to clients who were likely to benefit from the increased efficiency the application could bring.

Key to this was the close coupling of the voice mail system to the switchboard, and the careful training of our users. We installed the system for initial use by our support staff because we realised that they would be the first suppliers to use it. This, we judged, would allow our IT staff to become familiar with the training and operational needs of the users first of all. It would also allow lawyers to become familiar with the system before having to cope with clients starting to use the service.

One of the main problems to overcome was the introduction of a message waiting light that would not require the replacement all of our telephones. A second problem was to allow a caller to contact another person by pressing zero for the operator or the telephone extension of, for example, a secretary.

Overall, however, the firm is pleased that the introduction of this new technology has further increased the level of service offered to its clients and simultaneously increased it own efficiency.

Graham Roberts is director of Technology for Eversheds in East Anglia.