Allstate uses VOIP to help with hurricane response

Von Matt Hamblen

Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology helped Allstate Insurance Co. weather hurricanes Rita and Katrina in the Gulf Coast region, enabling quick setup of two offices for displaced agents and claims adjusters who took calls from storm victims, the company said this week.

The insurer built two new VoIP-based offices in seven to 14 days after Katrina, one with VoIP phones for 206 workers in Baton Rouge, La., and the second with 300 phones in Mobile, Ala., said Brandi Landreth, senior manager of network and voice solutions at Allstate in Northbrook, Ill.

"We deploy VoIP where it makes sense, as in some areas where we need mobility because of a hurricane or other catastrophe," Landreth said. VoIP also allows Allstate to quickly switch calls from an affected region to call center agents working hundreds of miles away. With Katrina and Rita, Allstate enlisted more than 100 claims adjusters from throughout the U.S., all of whom used softphones based on IP, she said.

In addition to the two new centers and agents nationally, Allstate enlisted VoIP technology to expand a call center in Lake Mary, Fla., that was built in response to hurricanes in 2004. It was used to supplement efforts in the Gulf Coast region, she said.

Landreth said about 10,000 IP phones have been deployed at Allstate, with plans to add more in 2006. A spokeswoman said Allstate has about 70,000 workers and agents. Allstate is using Avaya Inc. VoIP phones and softphones, as well as Avaya IP-based voice switches, Landreth said.

Despite the quick response allowed by VoIP, Allstate is still deploying VoIP selectively and "where it makes sense," Landreth said. The company has also has found that Avaya is able to help Allstate continue to use its circuit-switched phone system, she said.

"We have been conservative and strategic" with VoIP deployments, Landreth said. "We"re not forklifting our infrastructure just to say we"re on IP. And we"ve looked at targeted deployments of IP or areas where there is a cost savings because [it resulted in] reduced equipment."

Allstate"s IT workers haven"t heard a clamoring for applications enabled by IP networks, such as the ability to attach voice mails to e-mail, Landreth said. "The statement about finding the killer application [with VoIP] for a lot of people isn"t there yet," she said. "We just have not seen the projected savings on that that would drive us there."