This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2011 issue of Unified Communications Magazine
It’s been about a year since the Santa Clara Unified School District began implementing a new phone system, and last month the organization ported over the last school to the new solution.
“We’re talking about almost 1,800 phones, and different kinds of users and different things we need for each school, and that is just a monumental task,” says Mary Phillips, director of IT at SCUSD. “And that’s done, and it’s done well. And our vendor is there when we can’t solve it ourselves.”
That vendor is CallTower (News - Alert). Bob Barnes, executive vice president of sales, marketing and business development at CallTower, says that it requires a lot of partnership to pull off a big, complex deployment like this.
The effort involved migrating 26 locations from a Nortel (News - Alert) analog phone system, which lacked key voice and e-mail features and had reached end-of-life for maintenance and support, to a CallTower hosted VoIP solution that leverages Cisco VoIP and video products; a Microsoft (News - Alert) OCS server, including chat, some video capabilities, and audio extensions for click to call, among other features; and unified message to the school district’s Exchange server.
“We wanted all of the applications and features of UC but needed to contain costs,” says Phillips. “We also wanted to transition the district from a capex model to an opex model. Our goal was to get more for our money, and we saw little benefit in owning and maintaining our own equipment. We knew we wanted a hosted VoIP service based on the Cisco Unified Communications (News - Alert) Manager along with Cisco Unified IP Phones. We were pleased to learn that hosted VoIP and UC solutions are now eligible for eRate Priority 1 funding.”
The eRate program is a federally funded effort to make telecommunications and data communications tools and services more accessible to schools and libraries. CallTower and Cisco (News - Alert) are working in partnership to help find solutions for organizations that draw from the program. The Santa Clara Unified School District, which serves more than 13,000 K-12 students plus 18,000 students in preschool and adult school, got 63 percent of its funding for the CallTower solution via the eRate program.
Today, with the new solution, the Santa Clara Unified School District has a secure VoIP over private Internet connection; find me/follow me functionality that allows callers to use one number to reach employees anywhere; voicemail-to-e-mail capabilities, allowing workers to receive voicemails as MP3 files directly in their e-mail inboxes; fax to e-mail; and e-mail to voicemail. Additionally, all administrators have videoconferencing phones.
Phillips notes that many of the above new capabilities allow for more real-time communications, which can allow for better understanding between coworkers and colleagues.
To help get everyone up to speed on all the new capabilities, CallTower offered what Phillips referred to as “extensive training” with the school district staff. It spent two
Hours with teaching and office staff, and then came back to do another hour of training at each site. It offered an additional training opportunity for secretaries and clerks within the district. To reinforce the training, Phillips offers short presentations at school meetings on specific new capabilities of the CallTower solution. She also sends regular e-mails, which she calls snippets, to offer reminder tips on how to use different features.
“Every implementation has its bumps and challenges. However, CallTower has gone above and beyond in terms of its responsiveness and the outstanding service and support we have received every step along the way,” says Phillips. “We need to have our vendors be responsive, and CallTower has been extremely responsive, reliable and has exhibited the utmost integrity throughout the entire implementation.”
That’s not to mention the cost savings the Santa Clara Unified School District is realizing. Phillips says that while the initial implementation included some new costs, now that it’s done the cost for the system is about half of what it spent with its old provider. The school district was able to eliminate the costs of the two T1s from AT&T it needed for the old system, she says, and it only needs a single employee to help maintain the new system.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi