Meridian IT Solutions Brings Outsourced WAN In-House; Deploys IP Communications for Cole Taylor Bank
December 16, 2004
By Cindy McDowell, News@Cisco
Meridian IT Solutions, Inc., with headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois, is a Cisco® Gold Certified Partner committed to helping its clients increase productivity, gain a competitive edge, and reduce costs. With Cisco specializations in IP Telephony, VPN and Security, Wireless LAN (WLAN), Universal Dial Access, and Cisco IP Contact Center (IPCC) Express, Meridian IT Solutions was recognized by Cisco Systems as the Great Lakes US Regional DVAR (Direct Value Added Reseller) of the Year at the annual Partner Summit in April 2003, recognizing the company for achieving the highest cumulative score in its area for innovation, utilization of emerging technologies, year-over-year growth, and overall customer satisfaction.
The 22-year old privately held company has built a business model based on expertise in three strong businesses: state-of-the-art network infrastructure, security practice, and telephony practice.
"At any of our deployments, we're not just interested in putting phones on people's desks," says Dennis O'Connell, sales director for Meridian IT Solutions. "We have a holistic network perspective. For instance, there will be security issues no matter what the network solution is. We bring multiple disciplines to the building of a converged IP network."
Cole Taylor Bank Turns to Meridian IT for Network Overhaul
Meridian has executed a number of projects over the years for Cole Taylor Bank, the largest independent bank in the Chicago area, with 11 banking center locations and assets worth nearly US$2.5 billion. The bank had an outsourced WAN that it wanted to bring in-house to realize improved reliability, flexibility, scalability, reduced costs, and the consolidation of a main site, branches, and functions to a new corporate headquarters building.
"Cole Taylor Bank looked to us for a set of recommendations," says O'Connell. "In addition to bringing the outsourced WAN in-house, they wanted to consolidate and centralize their telecommunications systems which consisted of individual PBX's installed at each location and multiple call center groups. The solution also needed to conform to stringent risk mitigation requirements. As a public company, Cole Taylor Bank is also subject to legislation such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 (GLBA), which places specific requirements on financial institutions regarding information security and disaster recovery procedures." Originally, the bank's IT group wanted new data center architecture. Meridian showed them that the bank had a great opportunity to address their voice issues as well.
"The bank has enormous growth goals so they clearly needed a solution that could scale to meet that planned growth," says John Freres, president of Meridian IT Solutions. "When we considered those goals, a converged network solution made sense to everyone. If you are going to build a network to handle and manage growth, it has to be built with all other business applications in mind. An IP Communications solution was a natural addition."
Meridian IT Solutions proposed a completely new network for the bank. Freres says that one of the most essential components to satisfying the customer in this deployment was the installation of complete, end-to-end services from Meridian IT Solutions for the design, staging, implementation, training, and documentation delivery.
The solution included everything from core Cisco Catalyst® switches in the data center and closets to various routing platforms and Cisco IP Phones on top of the desks. Meridian recommended Cisco CallManager call processing software with various features, including Cisco IPCC technology as the bank's call center application. Financial businesses are required to maintain data security, and Meridian IT Solutions built in three layers of security across the bank's new WAN.
Consolidation at Meridian IT Facility Ensures Successful Deployment
Cole Taylor Bank chief information officer (CIO) Manny Montejano is experienced in working with several different organizations handling network deployments.
"From my experience, this was one of the smoothest and most well-executed deployments I have been involved with," Montejano says. "I attribute it to the partnering of the two teams and the upfront planning done by Meridian. People often do not consider the planning work that happens prior to deployment. Meridian's planning and pre-deployment work helped to avoid problems that could have become big issues, such as the major juggling acts we were doing with shutting down the old network, bringing up the new network, encrypting branches, and handling traffic shaping. These are basic things that a lot of companies may say they do but very few are able to actually accomplish these tasks as easily as Meridian did for us."
O'Connell agrees that the deployment went very well, particularly for one of this size, scope, and complexity.
"One challenge for a deployment of this size is that the products and equipment go to all these different sites," says O'Connell. "We consolidated everything at our facility, and got everything configured and burned in there. This minimizes the time at the customer site setting things up, and we could address glitches and malfunctions at our own offices rather than dealing with them at customer facilities. This also enables the customer to come in to discuss network plans away from their daily business distractions, and they can focus on the development of the network. This enables a gradual and stronger learning curve, making them more successful when it is their turn to handle the network themselves."
Freres notes that the onsite work at Meridian IT kept the rollouts efficient. There was no option during banking business hours for any downtime, and the timeframes for implementation shrunk smaller, due to construction and service provider delays.
"Although the rollout schedule grew intensely pressured, it was efficient due to the pre-work being handled at the Meridian IT site," Freres says.
Meridian IT's 'Personal Touch' Ensures Success
Meridian IT has found that many people consider their phones to be personal and this understanding was important to the successful rollout.
"Telephony is a social reengineering part of our business," says O'Connell. "On the data side you are behind the scenes and the equipment is in closets. As long as it is working, you leave it alone. On the telephony side, your work starts when people start using the phones, making sure people are comfortable with the look and feel of Cisco IP Phones. With all of the robust phone features, some users can be intimidated. We designed less technical, more feature-based training for the end users to help everyone in the organization be prepared to use their new phones successfully."
With this kind of technical and social preparation, Meridian IT put Cole Taylor Bank in the best possible position to be successful with its new network.
"This technology will help the bank reach its goals because of its flexibility and reaction time," says Montejano. "New products and technology are being rolled out to customers more quickly and with more control. For instance, as a public company we are under controls cited in the U.S. Patriot Act, among other things. With our new network, we are assured of compliance much more quickly."
Return on investment (ROI) numbers put together by Meridian IT Solutions and Cisco Systems, on behalf of Cole Taylor Bank, show a savings of more than US$1.0 million over five years. Cole Taylor Bank is not alone in looking at IP Communications as an effective way to grow its business.
"IP Communications has expanded, particularly in mid-tier companies," says Freres. "The big issue with IP is that it is a visible technology. It is not switches and routers sitting in a closet, it is someone's phone and that is very personal. With IP Communications, voice becomes an additional application and provides a great opportunity to increase productivity. We have run our own business on it for three years." Meridian has designed and deployed IP Communications solutions for about five years, and Freres has seen the technology grow from a great demo in a lab all the way through to scores of successful Meridian customers.
Meridian continues to grow its own business strategically. In addition to its three business disciplines, it is considering building a storage area network practice to layer in storage area capabilities for disaster recovery and archiving.
"We have evolved from a good Cisco infrastructure business doing some voice and security to designing and building infrastructure that enables a converged network for voice," says Freres. "The banking and financial industry requires us to continually focus on security, and we have built up a competitive advantage in that area. We see this evolving into storage and wireless technologies as we continually layer in new sets of technology. We will continually apprise our customers of the technology that is out there and how it can help them."
Cindy McDowell is a freelance journalist located in Santa Cruz, CA.
Most Recent NewsHow The Internet Is Preserving Korea's Cultural Heritage
By Amy Cortese 5/21/2013
Why Power Companies are Delving into Data
By Jason Deign 5/20/2013
Senior Executives Say Cloud-Based Collaboration Leads to Higher Business Performance