An ambitious and expanding commercial, personal, health and life insurance brokerage, Reich Insurance operates nationally and internationally from the group headquarters in Salford.
One of the UK’s top 50 brokers – and among the top 15 independents – it has in recent years complemented organic growth with acquisitive expansion.
Reich embraced both challenges and opportunities when looking to upgrade from its existing Mitel telephony platform.
As well as being served by expensive ISDN30 lines the incumbent system had reached both maximum capacity and end-of-life.
The needs of the business had also changed. Its acquisition strategy meant that greater flexibility and scalability was required in order to swiftly integrate acquired business.
The tragic events of May 2017, when the Manchester Arena was so devastatingly hit by a terrorist attack, also highlighted the potential for external events to interrupt business continuity.
“We weren’t directly affected by the Manchester Arena bomb but the police cordon extended about a quarter of a mile to only about 50 to 100 yards from our office,” explains Andy Kay, Reich’s chief risk officer.
“If they’d put it one block further out then our whole office would have been out of bounds. We’d have had no way of controlling incoming and outgoing calls.”
A platform offering a much more resilient disaster recovery capabilities was seen as imperative.
As for all businesses, operating costs are a constant challenge. When it came to telephony, the burden at Reich fell upon not just call charges but the leasing of expensive and increasingly outmoded ISDN30 lines.
That infrastructure was also inflexible, creating not just day-to-day headaches but making integration of additional staff on the system increasingly problematic.
Finally a reliable, resilient and user-friendly call recording system was crucial. “In the industry we operate in we’re always having to retrieve calls to determine who said what to who from both a legal and an insurance cover point of view,” explains Kay.
The existing set up, he says “did the job” but was hugely cumbersome, comprising a physical box from which back-up tapes needed to be regularly retrieved and data then uploaded on to hard drives. “It was an absolute faff.”
In search of the most appropriate and affordable solution, Kay invited three companies to tender for the upgrade. Having conducted what he calls the “usual beauty parade” his preference was for Pennine’s cloud offering, a highly reliable solution with impressive scalability, flexibility and functionality, alongside significant reductions in call costs.
… I’ve been involved with so many installs of software and platforms into Reich over the years and Pennine’s was up there as one of the very best
ANDY KAY, CHIEF RISK OFFICER, REICH INSURANCE
In designing its solution Pennine’s team consulted with Reich to architect a communications solution that would fulfil the company’s needs and objectives.
This saw it proposing implementation of Pennine’s Avaya’s IP Office in the Cloud with SIP trunks. As specified by Reich, the new platform was to exploit the company’s existing internet connections. Given the need for resilience and high call quality, Pennine incorporated within its proposal pre-testing of the network to confirm the viability of a hosted VoIP solution.
“We went with Avaya IP Office very much on Pennine’s recommendation. They’re the experts,” says Kay. Of course that recommendation was itself driven by Kay’s own briefing, with DR high on his priority list.
“We wanted a cloud-based solution which would be both more DR resilient and give us more control.”
In response to Kay’s understandable desire for a simpler and more flexible call recording platform, Pennine also recommended installation of specialist software which would also sit in the cloud.
For desktop hardware Pennine specified a tiered handset offering, with different deskphone models allocated according to seniority and required functionality.
Most of Reich’s 130 employees would take advantage of Avaya’s 9608G IP deskphones, more senior personnel the higher specification, colour-screened 9641GS and directors Yealink T58A smart media phones. These were to be complemented by four Avaya 8179 SIP conference phones to facilitate remote meetings.
With the proposed solution signed off, Pennine worked in partnership with Reich on an implementation plan. This resulted in a particularly smooth transition from the redundant Mitel system to the state-of-the-art Avaya platform.
Kay confirms this, saying: “I’ve been involved with so many installs of software and platforms into Reich over the years and Pennine’s was up there as one of the very best.”
By utilising Reich’s existing internet architecture and hosting the core Avaya telephony and Xima call recording software in the cloud, Pennine delivered an always-on solution which required impressively little capital investment.
Instead Reich now enjoys the cashflow benefits of known and keenly priced operating costs, with the Pennine package also incorporating a money-saving calls bundle.
“Based on the call volumes utilised on our old platform the cost of calls is significantly reduced,” enthuses Kay of savings which run into thousands of pounds annually. “That was one objective we wanted to achieve as our chief operating officer is constantly looking at how we can reduce the business’s day-to-day costs.”
Reich is also now benefiting from a greatly enhanced DR regime. Should the broker be locked out of its HQ or it suffer a catastrophic event, it can quickly and easily restore access to the Avaya platform.
“Having a console in the cloud that we can just log into and redirect everything, that’s a massive thing for us,” confirms Kay.
He has also gained reassurance from the fact that the telephony is hosted on tier four data centres. These are the most advanced and robust hosts, designed specifically for mission critical applications. These incorporate dual resilience, with both duplicated hardware and a failover to a hybrid cloud to ensure data and service integrity.
One swiftly realised benefit has been the flexibility and scalability of the new solution, specifically the SIP trunks. “We can scale up, scale down and remote access at will. The flexibility is great, it’s what sets it apart” says Kay.
This proved a major boon when in October 2018 Reich acquired LJM Insurance. This saw the Stockport-based firm’s partners and staff joining the payroll in Salford at relatively short notice.
Whilst a potential acquisition might be flagged a couple of months in advance, the need for due diligence means that contracts may not be signed until some weeks later. That means commitments can’t be made to acquiring things like licences and hardware until close to D-Day.
“I think we had about two weeks between the contract being signed and staff moving into Salford, so that was interesting!” recalls Kay. “It was all hands-on deck to sort everything out but we got there in the end. There was a lot of things to consider, but from the telephony side Pennine’s solution made everything much easier because it’s so flexible.”
“To be honest I don’t think it would have been possible in that timescale if we hadn’t gone for the Avaya system.”
To help ensure Reich and its employees gained maximum value from the new platform and desktop phones, Pennine also laid-on training for every single member of staff. “It was great. We’ve got more people using more and different features than we had six months ago. That can only be a good thing,” concludes Kay.