Q&A with ET Investments
See the challenges they were facing with their previous ShoreTel partner and why they chose Inflow.
About ET Investments
ET Investments is a leading a title agency holdings company that leverages financial, marketing and operational expertise to create a community of locally owned and operated title agencies. ET Investments has been with Inflow for a while now after years of struggling to find a company with the reliability and expertise needed to help them move to the Connect platform. When IT Director Andy Donaldson joined ET Investments to push through the move, his previous exposure to Inflow and the way we work was enough to make us his first choice. We recently spoke to Andy to find out more about why he moved ET Investments over to Inflow, what the process was like and how Inflow compares to other solutions on the market. If you’re considering us as a new provider, this Q&A will hopefully give you the insight you need to make an informed decision.
Q&A with Andy Donaldson, IT Director of ET Investments
When you came onboard with ET, you mentioned you had a positive experience with us in the past, can you explain a little bit more about how you learned about us or worked with us previously?
I was the IT director for, Western Title, a title and escrow company with corporate headquarters in Bend, Oregon. I was their IT director for about 10 years. Shortly after I came on board, we needed to make a migration from our existing phone system. We had considered several phone options but one of the local broadband companies down there had recently started selling ShoreTel. So as far as the value proposition for what was available at the time compared to Cisco and Mitel, it came in as the top selection. Unfortunately, the vendor down there seriously oversold and under delivered to the point where I had to get rid of them mid-contract. And at that point in time, I can’t remember who had suggested Inflow with an option, but you guys helped stabilize the environment, provided responsive support, and just helped us in general with routine operations.
Since you’ve moved your support over to Inflow, have we had major fixes or enhancements that we’ve helped you with?
No, we were in the process of upgrading to the Connect environment in my previous role. We had the 80 offices spread across five states with varying levels of gear. Part of the challenge there was understanding Connect didn’t work with a couple of versions of the switches that we had out there that need to be upgraded.
But one of the big values in the previous role that I don’t think was available when I was with Western Title was the Brightmetrics Reporting. Because one of the things that was disappointing about ShoreTel in its early days was their failure to improve their reporting. But Brightmetrics has stepped in and filled that gap.
Was Brightmetrics a nice value-add? In what ways did you guys use it or in what ways was it a benefit?
There was a very complicated call flow that we were constantly trying to figure out. Who was on the call tree when we’re adding and removing people, the after-hours flow, the bugging—it helped us get a handle on what that was.
We also used it for some debugging when we were having call quality issues. And Inflow helped us with that. Prior to Brightmetrics in my previous role, I spent hours and hours just trying to go through the log details.
Any other things that you liked about Brightmetrics?
I liked the fact, if I remember correctly, it essentially pulls in the log data and has a cloud service that provides analytics as opposed to an agent that has to run on the system. In other words, you don’t need a report server on site.
The other thing that I liked about Inflow was the fact that they were providing ongoing backups of our environment as part of the contract.
Did you have backups before? Or was it nice to have a third person doing it, too?
Yeah, we had our own but we never tested as part of our DR exercise. Going with a third party that actually specializes in that was a bigger level of comfort.
At Inflow, we focus a lot on knowledge sharing and trying to help people learn more about their system through webinars and our knowledge base and ongoing training. Since you’ve been with Inflow is there anything new you’ve learned about your system?
Oh, well, I can’t give you specifics but every time I attended a webinar, every time I need to learn more about a specific feature I go look through the historical webinars and training videos that are out there.
We are in a day and age where it’s impossible to know everything so it is important to know where to go to find the info. And the videos and webcasts are our encyclopedia.
What issues did you have with your previous partner?
No responsiveness, no compliance with their SLA, no reporting on any updates I had asked for. It would be the same every time. We open a support ticket, I’d like to follow that link to see how well you’re meeting it and then the ticket is closed or lost.
And then when they send somebody out, they’re sending somebody who essentially sits on-site, calls in for support, gets the second level of support and ends up having to call ShoreTel. And all the time we have call centers that are down because of it.
I was a little bit hesitant [to work with Inflow] due to the lack of physical presence for the areas that we covered. But it didn’t turn out to be an issue and the expertise was there and it didn’t seem to matter who we were talking with. And really the only thing that it turns out that you really need is remote hands.
Is there anything about Inflow that you specifically love or stands out to you?
Yeah, the responsiveness, the expertise, and the follow through. I don’t think I’ve ever had to call and ask where we stood on a particular issue. I was always being proactively informed of what was going on.
I also appreciate it, and I don’t think this was done with the previous vendors, proactive advice of how things look for the future, what we should be considering for the year going forward, what the plan should be as far as new versions, when we’re ready for the new versions and even when we should do any upgrades that are on the horizon.
We have an onboarding audit, we have a roadmap discussion that is kind of planning for the future. Tell me about that candidate experience with the onboarding audit.
The onboarding audit, as far as I was concerned, was just critical to assess whether or not your infrastructure is in shape to support your telecommunications, especially when you have a number of field offices out there with varying levels of switches and firmware. Obviously, you want to get as compliant as you can and consistent as you can. But sometimes due to the level of business activity, you’ve got to prioritize the updates coming through and that’s good to know that certain versions have to be prioritized and other ones can wait till slower time of the season because the business I was in, historically, had a very definite activity pattern, both monthly and yearly. You know, there are certain times of the year that the less you can interrupt the business the better and there are certain times of the year you have a little more leisure in doing stuff.
I appreciated Inflow’s flexibility as far as the contract status went and helping us soften the impact for the last half of the previous six months of the previous contract and negotiating into the next year.
That’s our Float Program. Obviously, if people are in a contract, they feel kind of stuck. How does that help your business to be able to get out of that contract or switch midstream? What benefit was that for you guys?
That was a big benefit of bringing the expertise in-house. It was just an unfortunate situation with the previous vendor. I don’t know how well the vendor was responsive to other organizations, maybe it was the size of our organization that impacted them. So just being able to have that consistent expertise and attention and support has made a big difference as far as our ability to keep the ShoreTel system up and going.
I probably have five or six people I’m dealing with right now that are in that same situation, they are midstream and in their contract. What would be your advice to people who are on the fence about switching and taking advantage of the Float Program?
My advice would be that I saw nothing but benefits out of it and I didn’t see any disruption internally to the company either on the accounting side or around the operations side. I thought it was seamless. So anybody that’s leaning in that direction that I would recommend pulling the trigger based on my past experience.
The other thing that comes up is that when you pay for that contract, that’s money out the door. Now on the float agreements, many times we’ll ask for some kind of sum, to float, right? So there’s some extra money that you have to get out of a budget somewhere. But is that money worth it?
Obviously, there’s a point at which the budget may not accommodate the amount in question. But if it can be slung, that’s going to depend on your state, if you’re with somebody who may be okay and you have someone internal next you who can get you through the end, then that’s entirely a budgeting decision.
If you’re on the fence and you’re trying to decide whether it’s worth it and you can swing it, then I would go for it.
But I will just throw something else in here, and this is something I’m probably going to do in this case depending on how things move forward here, but I would definitely leverage Inflow’s expertise on a time and materials basis as needed during that time. Or at least consider them as an option to supplement the existing contract.
We’ve heard about how we stack up against your previous ShoreTel vendor. How does Inflow compare to any other vendors you’ve worked with?
I would say that Inflow certainly stands out among the top. I would say that Inflow is definitely at the top of vendor responsiveness and performance. My benchmark for that is when I don’t have to follow up with the vendor, when the vendor is the one contacting me and being proactive.
Anything else? We’re always trying to improve and do something different, so we were a standard vendor and then we added onsite Brightmetrics and backups, then we added professional voice recordings, etc…
I forgot about the voice recording option. I can’t remember if we actually made use of it but we were planning to if we didn’t. That was a nice value add as well. I think the challenge there was in trying to understand the call flow before moving into that, which is where Brightmetrics came in. But some people just don’t feel comfortable putting their voice out there, so just having that as an option and feeling comfortable on the professional side of things was just one less thing to stress about.
And even pay for it, right? You wouldn’t have to pay for that, we would pay for you. So out of all these other vendors that you have dealt with, is there anything else that we could add into our support contracts in the future that would make it a no-brainer for some people?
Nothing that comes immediately to mind. As far as I’m concerned you’re already at the top. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been looking to Inflow as the first thing when I came on board here.