More megabytes on the menu of national restaurant chain

O'Charley's resturuants replaced its dial up connection with frame relay network paving the way for future network applications aimed at improving customer service and reducing employee turnover.

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Communication plays a critical role in any business.

That is why O'Charley's restaurants, a company that generates almost $500 million in annual revenue, called on Vanguard Managed Services to build an integrated network infrastructure to connect 161 locations to its corporate headquarters in Nashville, Tenn.

As the company grew, O'Charley's management knew they needed to make changes to support an increasing number of new stores each year. Burdened with a slow dial-up network that created high long-distance bills, O'Charley's wanted a single network for voice, data and fax. The goal was a network that would improve communications between stores and corporate headquarters, as well as provide a network infrastructure for future applications.

Jim Gray, director of information services for O'Charley's, says the company saw a lot of opportunity to expand communications among stores by voice, fax and data over a frame relay network.

According to Gray the reason O'Charley's went with Vanguard is because they were a one-stop shop providing a single point of contact for O'Charley's telecommunications providers and hardware vendors. In addition, Vanguard provided network monitoring service that is able to monitor the network and remedy any problems, while reporting issues to the 17-member IT department at O'Charley's corporate headquarters.

According to Gray, O'Charley's considered alternative solutions by Cisco and Lucent, but decided on VanguardMS because of its flexibility.

"The others tended to have IP routers versus a frame router that could handle multiple protocols," Gray said. "We didn't want to change all of our phone equipment and all of our computer applications to IP. Vanguard had a better size and priced product for our type of operation."

Gray said O'Charley's had some hurdles to overcome in the beginning, but now the adding a new store to the network is routine.

"Getting credit card, gift cards processors, our point of sale people, and the network people using the same protocols, languages, and message formats was probably our biggest challenge," said Gray.

"We were also involved with a lot of local phone companies, and everyplace we went with a new phone company it was difficult to communicate what we were doing and get the right service," he added.

ROI

So far O'Charley's has broken even on the $1.5 million project, keeping its communications costs at a constant rate.

"What we've been able to do is implement this system with out having a negative impact on our earnings," said Gray.

Gray said the real ROI will come from the human resources applications that will run on the new network.

"We believe that some of the work that we are doing in our human resource area should significantly reduce the turnover of our management and staff people in our stores, and if we can do that it has a big impact on ROI," said Gray.

In hindsight Gray said O'Charley's could have been more careful choosing and coordinating with local telecom providers.

"Had we gone with a more national company where we could have gotten the same access in a lot more places, I think it would have been a lot more straightforward."

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