2 Tech Investments Worth Making -- and 1 That Wasn't
What were the biggest technology investments we have recently made? Two:
1. Server Virtualization
First, we consolidated and expanded our server infrastructure by deploying VMware vSphere, installed on three load-balanced servers that host 15 virtual servers. We were able to dedicate most of the virtual servers to performing only one specific task to maximize performance of each task.
This also helps with server maintenance. By moving the virtual servers to the other two hosts, we can take an entire physical server down without having to interrupt business. This also helps us maintain the high availability of all servers, makes backups more streamlined and allows us to keep stateful backups at the machine level so that we can bring a server back up rapidly in the event of a disaster. The reduced cost in routine maintenance, the increase in performance and reliability, and the reduction in electricity consumption should end up offsetting a large portion of the investment over time.
2. VoIP Telephony Solutions
Next, we chose to upgrade our old phone switches, a Toshiba Strata DK280 with analog trunk lines and a mix of analog and digital handsets, to the ShoreTel phone switching solution. By using existing Ethernet ports on our local area network, we were able to replace most of the aging CAT-3 analog and digital phones with IP-based handsets. Some of the benefits we gained from this new solution: the ability to pass caller ID to the desktop phones, centrally manage each extension and voicemail box, consolidate the management of two physical locations into one virtual location with a distributed voicemail server, and virtualize each voicemail server.
We chose to reduce the number of analog trunk lines we used by replacing the majority of those plain old telephone switch (or "POTS") lines with a T1 data circuit and then adding session initiation protocol (SIP) trunks delivered over the T1 circuit. We used an ADTRAN device to convert the SIP trunks to a PRI circuit at the location so that we could plug it directly into the ShoreTel system. The SIP trunks allow us to utilize free nationwide long distance included in the cost of the trunk line. This dramatically reduced (essentially eliminated) our monthly long-distance bills, which was a huge cost savings.
The system still allowed us to add analog extensions to certain outlying areas that did not have a network connection. And it lets our staff stay connected while on the road with the use of the Find Me/Follow Me feature, which automatically forwards calls to outside phone lines. Plus, newer technology lets you use your mobile device as a native phone on the ShoreTel system and allows for integration into our ACT! customer relationship management software. That's a big productivity enhancement for our sales team and allows us to closely track their sales conversions.
We could have gone with a cheaper phone switch solution and saved a little bit of money in the initial capital expense. However, it would have ended up being a modern version of the same old technology. We realized that the features and benefits of a more modern solution were worth the extra investment up front. Our end users, as well as our IT staff, have a lot more confidence in the newer, feature-rich system.
The One Investment That Did Not Pay Off
Although our VoIP and virtualized server investments brought substantial benefits, we also made one tech investment that didn't bring the ROI we hoped for. We believed we were in need of a centralized customer database that would track our guests as they move through their resort experience throughout the day so that we could analyze spending habits, know what types of interests were popular, and customize our marketing message to our guests.
We attempted to implement a centralized system by importing information from various points of sale and combining that information to try to influence customer purchasing decisions based on their spending trends. It did not perform as we had hoped. In general, we found that people will do what they do. Having a patchwork collection of their purchasing history and attempting to offer them things that they would not normally purchase in the first place seldom has any positive results in our marketing campaigns. It cost a lot to get the custom centralized database built and deployed. The effort only lasted a year or so before we scrapped it entirely.
So my advice is this: Do not invest in technology for the sake of technology. Sometimes the best system might be the one you already have in place. It might take altering existing business rules or looking for other opportunities to increase productivity and/or reduce costs. Just because you can computerize something does not necessarily mean that you should.
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