Clacton-based Jameson Chartered Accountants could be described as a ‘large small’ firm, with a team almost thirty strong serving a growing customer base including a number of larger clients.
Their phone system had been in place since 1992, and – perhaps surprisingly – their telecom costs had, if anything, been falling relative to other expenses. In part this is because they receive many more calls than they make themselves: the ratio is probably about 7 to 3. For quick response they now find it more effective to use text messaging and email.
Jameson’s had been discussing upgrades to their phone system for some years, but the trigger point came in August 2013, when they took over another practice in Colchester. Shortly afterwards, in April 2014, they took over a second practice based in Manningtree.
Clearly it would be expensive to keep a competent secretarial team at each of the three offices, and there was an additional problem, too. Under the new arrangements some staff were moving between offices, so there was a risk that clients might have to make several phone calls before reaching the person dealing with their affairs. It made obvious sense to have a system where all the calls could be answered at the Clacton head office, and then redirected to the right person wherever they were working at the time – even if they were working from home.
So the firm took the decision not to renew their existing service contract (in place since 1992!) and to look for a replacement system from a reputable supplier.
Timing for the new system was important. The work could not be done until the network cabling in the Clacton office had been reconfigured, which meant waiting until February 2015 – and it certainly could not be started before the majority of the firm’s work on annual tax returns had been completed.
Choosing the system
Jameson’s invited three firms to tender. Two were offering cloud-based systems, but Bill Wilson, who was in charge of the deal, was attracted by Foxhall’s server and software-based system. ‘At 62 I’m an IT enthusiast, and phasing down my professional work, but I’m interested in maintaining our IT system. And Graham made a good impression – his system was the least expensive, and I liked the fact that it could be managed from a server in our office. That meant it was under our control and we could do our own minor modifications. The outlay for Foxhall’s system was mostly on phones and an internet upgrade – we’d have needed to do that for any system, so even if we had eventually chosen something different we’d have benefited from the installation anyway.’
A challenging installation
Even when the decision had been made there were some serious challenges to overcome, especially when it came to finding downtime when the upgrades could be done. The Clacton office is also the firm’s main data centre, with many of the staff working on remote desktop machines but still using the in-house servers. With more and more of the firm’s work being internet-based the tolerance for downtime was almost zero – despite careful scheduling to avoid the firm’s busiest period. Even weekends were difficult because colleagues were still working out of hours. ‘But when necessary Graham always worked late into the night to get things done.’ (Graham notes that he wasn’t the only one…!)
Late night working certainly proved necessary when the Foxhall team tried to replace Jameson’s BT Openreach hubs with Draytek routers – only to find that the existing configuration worked only with BT’s own equipment. However, after a (very) long and frustrating weekend Foxhall were able to get everything working as intended.
Similar problems were revealed when it came to installing the new equipment at Manningtree – but once again these were overcome to everyone’s satisfaction, creating a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that precisely met Jameson’s requirements.
Foxhall’s formal quotation was delivered on 13 March. The Clacton office was up and running on 19 April, the Colchester office five days later, and the Manningtree office five days after that – delays made inevitable by the firm’s intensive use of its servers during the working week.
So what was their experience of the installation? In Bill Wilson’s words: ‘Foxhall Solutions delivered the system we were expecting in a thoroughly professional, friendly and enjoyable way –it was very pleasurable working with them.’