St George wraps up branch telephony refresh

Panasonic gets the nod over the bank's corporate supplier Avaya.

St George Bank has substantially completed a refresh of the telephony systems used in its smaller retail branches, with Panasonic getting the nod over the bank's corporate supplier Avaya.

The rollout was "largely completed by July 06," according to the bank's chief manager of IT Network Services, Paul Bristow, who commented on the implementation in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Australia this week.

In a separate statement issued by Panasonic, Bristow said St George had been using telephony systems from Panasonic in some capacity since 1999, although a major rollout has taken place in the past few months.

In total, St George has installed the new hardware into 265 of its retail branches, replacing what Bristow described as a mix of up to 13-year-old legacy small business systems from Commander, as well as others vendors.

The new Panasonic kit comprised hybrid KX-TDA30 and KX-TDA100 PABX systems capable of delivering Voice over IP (VoIP) services and a mix of approximately 500 digital and cordless handsets.

But despite using IP telephony solutions from Avaya extensively in its corporate offices, St George declined to switch on the next-generation VoIP technology and remains happy with Panasonic in its smaller retail branches.

"We use Avaya as the main platform for convergence and telephony at our major and corporate sites (any site with 50 or more staff)," said Bristow. "Our business model doesn't necessarily dictate we need call centre functionality out at a branch level."

"So, for basic telephony functionality on a small scale, we have used Panasonic to date."

Bristow noted Avaya would be in contention if the bank's business model changed so the branches needed more advanced telephony features.

In turn, the executive praised Panasonic's solution. "It is, in our opinion, the best of the small business systems we have worked with. It's simple to install, it's reliable, it's affordable," he said.

Bristow confirmed St George was not using any of the Panasonic system's IP features, and pointed out Panasonic currently only sold the hybrid type systems. To move to full IP telephony would require a lot of "homework and preparation" in areas such as uninterruptible power supplies, security, monitoring and risk management, according to the executive.

But he didn't rule out such a move, saying the Panasonic solution would allow a "highly compatible and cost-effective" move to VoIP should St George wish to do so in the future.

In Panasonic's statement, Bristow said St George had trained its own installation and maintenance teams for the migration, "which keeps the cost down and helps when staff are moving between branches".

"The phones have the same interface throughout, so re-training is kept to a minimum and it can be completed by our own teams," he said.

Bristow declined to comment on whether St George was currently conducting any other major branch IT projects.