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GCN : January 2013
GCN JANUARY 2013 • GCN.COM 25 unavoidable changes have now been largely accomplished, they were disrup- tive to agency personnel, operations, and services." But not nearly as disruptive as they could have been, said Kendrick. "On the plus side, Summit County had a pretty robust infrastructure already," that was able to easily accommodate the smaller IT systems of the Akron and Barberton public health operations. Databases were consolidated and 11 offices for the new department around the county were linked with existing fiber optic cable where possible, and with fiber and cable leased from telecoms where necessary. "An aging telephone system was the challenging piece," Kendrick said. The new department got authority from the Board of Health to buy the Switch- vox system in September 2011 and the equipment arrived in November, in what proved to be a case of good timing. "Our old system just died," he said. "It forced an upgrade instantly." The new phones already were on desks and "we had telephones ringing again almost instantly," Kendrick said. Still, "it was a huge learning curve for our main office of about 100 employees. It was a rough first week, but we had everybody up and running in a day or two," undoubtedly much more quickly than if the old system had died without a transition system already in place. PORTING PREDICAMENT The VOIP upgrade for 10 of the 11 Health Department offices was completed in May 2012 (the 11th office is too small to warrant extending the system to), but the system still was being tweaked in Novem- ber. "The technology was the easy part," Kendrick said. Configuring infrastructure and port- ing phone numbers for various agencies was the real challenge, and routing poli- cies for the automated call attendant are being fine tuned to get the most efficient performance not only from the equip- ment, but from staff. As departments go, the consolidated Summit County Public Health is not large. It has about 260 employees with about 350 phone lines in 11 locations throughout the Northeast Ohio county. It handles a wide range of tasks, however, from immunizations and clinics for over- seas travelers to testing for and tracking HIV and sexually transmitted diseases and reporting communicable diseases to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It performs environmen- tal health and air quality monitoring as well as inspections of hotels, restaurants and public swimming pools. Bringing together three different staffs to work under a single department was difficult, but the job is eased a little by a unified IT system that now has a standard software configuration and a planned re- placement cycle. The decision to replace the old Nortel PBX system with a Voice Over IP system was not difficult. "It was given," Kendrick said. "If we were going with something new, it had to be VOIP to give us the flex- ibility we needed." Kendrick already had experience with Switchvox from an implementation he did while working in the county engi- neer's office that saved $30,000 on sys- tem costs alone. For the new health department the Switchvox solution, offered through the Cleveland-based integrator N2Net Inc., came in about $200,000 under the of- fering from Cisco, said Mark Amick, Dig- ium's director of product management. Switchvox is the commercial version of the Asterisk open source VOIP plat- form, which is managed and maintained by Digium. The company's commercial offerings began with network cards for connecting the open source Asterisk PBX servers to telephone systems. But about five years ago as Session Initiation Protocol was becoming ubiq- uitous and SIP Trunking could deliver unified communications to IP PBXs, it began looking for other sources of revenue. Switchvox is an appliance- based PBX based on Asterisk, but with a Graphical User Interface and technical support. It is shipped on a purpose-built Intel-based server that can scale to meet the customer's needs. Digium also offers its own SIP handsets. 3 Number of health departments consolidated 250 Number of employees integrated 100 Number of computers retooled $1,505,094 Savings from consolidation in 2012 $100,000 Savings from maintenance and line fees 4 years VOIP system time to pay-back