Mazda consolidates phone systems, modernizes CRM

VoIP software to run in virtualized environment

The Australian operations of Japanese car giant Mazda is replacing five disparate telephone systems with a single IP-PABX and will redevelop its in-house CRM system to modernize its business and communication processes.

Mazda Australia's national information systems manager, Tim Ballingall, said all the state offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth had different phone systems and there has been a need to bring them together over the past six months.

"We identified the business needs to bring our offices closer together to make the Mazda network look like the same floor of a building," Ballingall said. "We needed to improve the way we presented ourselves to dealers and customers and to make that happen we needed a unified communications strategy and to manage presence across all sites."

Mazda's existing network of PABXs uses the PSTN and there is no merging of the voice and data networks.

"When you have disparate systems you don't have the opportunity to see who's in office and who's engaged," Ballingall said.

With a mixture of NEC, Commander, and other smaller systems, Mazda looked at offerings from Nortel and Interactive Intelligence before deciding on New Zealand software company IPFX.

"IPFX seemed to do the best job on Cisco equipment," Ballingall said. "And Dimension Data has more experience with IPFX than other systems. We have lots of existing Cisco network hardware and skills so to purchase something that didn't merge into our existing environment posed a certain risk."

Mazda is in the process of changing over now and will go live on July 19. The company has some 21 IT staff.

"We didn't have to invest heavily in IPFX, with two new Windows servers put in," Ballingall said. "We also put in new PoE switches to support VoIP, but expect to get at least five years out of them. IPFX is not resource intensive and is cost competitive."

As part of the migration, Mazda will replace its "old digital" handsets with Cisco handsets and some soft phone clients. Its outbound call centre will use soft phones and headsets on about 22 clients.

Ballingall said the consolidation of phone systems doesn't save a lot of money, but the company will save on call costs.

That said, cost was not an initial driver for the project, but rather it was about bringing the company closer together.

"Beyond that we will be able to integrate voice and enterprise applications like CRM," he said.

Mazda has developed its own in-house CRM system with the Forte 4GL environment, which Ballingall said is based on open standards and provides a lot of options.

Mazda's CRM developed over a long period of time and is viewed as strategically important to the company and was "well and truly ahead of its time".

"It's class-leading within Mazda globally and we've had 20 to 30 overseas Mazda delegates here to see it," Ballingall said. "It's probably a step above the rest and voice integration will be one area we look at."

Whatever the future possibilities, Mazda has a more immediate concern when the Sun-owned Forte environment reaches its end of support life in September.

By then Mazda plans to have the CRM migrated to a Java-based application environment.

Ballingall said there are benefits to developing your own CRM system as it would be difficult for an off-the-shelf system to integrate into its vehicle and transport systems.

"We don't have a square peg in round hole issue and we can adapt to the market really quickly," he said, adding he is happy to keep the application in-house.

The new IP telephony system will integrate into the Exchange groupware system and plans are under way to integrate the Tandberg videoconferencing system which has been in place for about 18 months.

"The whole solution we are heading towards is when it won't matter if you're on a mobile phone, at a hotel in Japan, or at desk in the office - people will be able to communicate at the same level," Ballingall said.

The IPFX system will be hosted completely in Melbourne and handle all in-bound calls, customer service, spare parts and IT support calls.

In a vote of confidence for virtualization technology, Mazda will virtualize the IPFX server itself with VMWare, which Ballingall believes is a more fault tolerant architecture in the event of a hardware failure.

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