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Phone System Turkey Award

Phone System Turkey Award
Phone System Turkey Award
November 20, 2005

What's not cool on your phone system? That's right, Thanksgiving Day is almost upon us so it's time to award the First Annual Phone System Turkey. Enter the Sprint Protege.

I'm going to use the Way-Back machine to go back to about 1994 or so. I don't want to disparage any systems currently in production and if there are any real lemons, they haven't come to my attention.

Anyway, a company known as Premier had been OEMing phone systems for Inter-tel. They had a sizable network of dealers around the country. The Premier ESP, MDX and DX was a wonderful product line in its day for several reasons. It was one of the most user friendly, feature-rich systems on the market. It ranged from small systems with just a few phones to PBX sized systems that could have 500 or so phones. The phones migrated from the smallest system up to the largest.

The Premier line's chief marketing downfall was that it was analog. There were few if any features that could be implemented with digital systems that were then on the market that were worth a hoot. However, the competition always brought up the fact that the Premier was not digital and it was tough to sell against. The company I worked for managed to do fairly well because we sold based on the Premier's outstanding feature set and its user-friendliness. We held our own.

Unfortunately, Premier's 5 year OEM agreement with Intertel expired and was not renewed. Premier, which was owned by Sprint North Supply, had to scramble to find product.

One of the products they came up with had been manufactured by a Scandinavian firm for some time. Our Premier rep came to our office to demo this system, known as the Sprint Protege. It was lacking in both size and features compared to the Premier. We were pretty disappointed, but we didn't know how bad it was going to get.

I sold three of these systems that I can remember. The first was when I accompanied another rep (I was the sales manager). The Protege's features had what the customer needed. I overcame the customer's objections and cost-justified it by reducing the costs of their phone calls significantly.

The second Protege I sold was to a small company that expected some growth. The system again met their feature requirements (most systems do for most customers) as well as their growth expectations.

The third was to a larger company in advertising. They came from a PBX environment. The one special feature they wanted to keep was the ability for a call to ring on a secretary's desk and their boss's phone simultaneously. They needed their 'buttons'. I verified with my technician's that this could be done and won the job.

On the first system, there were some service calls that I was aware of in the background. I confirmed with each of these that the service department responded to them in each case, so I didn't pursue this any further.

On the second system, I went out to train the customer. The techs did the training for most of the sales reps, but I preferred to do my own. I knew how the customer wanted to use the system. This gave me the chance to see that it was programmed according to their needs and it helped me greatly in my system knowledge.

Although I had read the available materials and practiced some on the demo system at our office, I was unprepared for what happened. Even basic features like transferring calls and programming speed dial were burdensome. Nothing was intuitive. The owner was understanding. His took most things seriously and was very persistent. With eight people in front of me, this should have taken 30 minutes. I was there for two hours and left feeling like some of the people I had trained would have trouble transferring a call.

About this time I learned from our Premier rep that the reason the Protege had some quirks was that it was based on 8-bit processors. Most systems in those days had 16-bit processors and some had 32-bit. These phones practically shuddered if you attempted to program a DSS. You could watch the display 'catch up' with the steps you hade done several seconds earlier.

The third install was a lot more demanding on these processors. They had 60 or so phones. Each had a lot of these special buttons programmed that were supposed to ring on both phones. This customer had a very stressful environment. There were several honchos that each had a fiefdom within the organization. They were very demanding on the people below them.

After many attempts at programming, the system was made to do what was required. However, it was not stable. The programming wouldn't hold on some extensions. Many times we went back there and couldn't reproduce the trouble and our techs believed the customer was simply persnickety. Other times, we went back and had to reprogram. Phones would ring for no reason. Calls were lost. It was nightmarish.

System one was returned and refunded in full. Although we kept going back to resolve their issues, the system didn't fail to keep presenting problems.

The owner of system two suffered through it gamely for years. I went back a few times to help identify problems and brainstorm solutions. My techs were back many times. I can't believe they didn't demand a different system.

The third system was pulled after two weeks. We put their old system back in place with an expansion unit to meet their growth. The secretaries got their 'buttons' back.

Epilogue: I may have sold a couple more Protege's, but they weren't as (painfully) memorable as these three. Intertel came in to most of the Premier dealers and signed them up right and left. We were ripe for the picking. We took on their then new product, the Axxess, and hummed along nicely with it for some time.

As for the Protege, there must be some still in service. Maybe they improved it significantly after the year or so that we suffered through. I know that there was a national contract with an auto parts store which had hundreds of locations.

My company today occasionally gets some requests for Protege phones or KSU's. Not surprisingly, we don't carry it.

P. S. I know that OEMing isn't a real word, but I didn't have the time to recall a real one that suited me.

P. P. S. Any opinions shared above are my own and I have a right to express them. Any divergence with reality is based upon the effects of time upon my memory.

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