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GCN : January 2013
26 GCN JANUARY 2013 • GCN.COM CASE STUDY UNIFIED COMM FEATURES The system typically is used in small-to- medium business environments with 400 or fewer users and provides the full range of unified communications functional- ity, from basic call handling to integrated voice mail and e-mail, call forwarding and call routing through Interactive Voice Response. Call routing supports call centers by routing and queuing calls for multiple answering stations. The browser-based Switchboard inter- face can provide receptionists or opera- tors with a view of the system and enable drag-and-drop transfers without looking up phone numbers. "The system is very easy to configure," Kendrick said. "I didn't have any formal training. I bought the system and figured it out. The technology was the easy part." The challenge was in managing the phone numbers for the three agencies that had each been operating indepen- dently until 2011. It turned out to be sur- prisingly complicated to track down all of the numbers and find out who was using them, especially with personnel being reassigned to new offices and positions, and this had an impact on operations, the Kent State study found. "While these changes in telephone sys- tems and operations are now largely in place, employees reported that the pro- cess of making these telephone system changes caused significant disruptions in some cases," the report said. "Some tele- phone numbers were effectively aban- doned (at least for periods of time) and resulted in messages left by callers that were not returned in timely fashion. In other cases, calls were routed to numbers with misleading messages." This left some workers less than happy with the transition. In an employee sur- vey for the Kent State study, 62 percent called the consolidation an ongoing pro- cess with expected ups and downs, 22 percent called it very problematic and 11 percent called it "a major problem with very negative consequences." But discovery of the numbering sys- tems has continued and routing policies have been tuned to help ensure that calls end up with the right person, and there is no denying that the consolidation saved money almost immediately. Total fund- ing for the separate agencies in 2010 totaled about $10 million, and for the consolidated department in 2011 it was about $8.5 million, a savings of $1.5 mil- lion or 15 percent. Most of that was re- alized in the city of Akron, which saw its health department costs drop from about $6.6 million in 2010 to $5.26 million in 2011, a savings of a little more than $1.3 million. The consolidated department has maintained its services while cutting costs and has the capacity to improve them, the study concluded. "The new consolidated department has greater ex- pertise and programmatic capacity than any of the individual health departments that preceded it," it said. "The capacities of any one of the original departments can now be made available to citizens throughout the county without referrals across organizations." • Choosing VOIP for a new communica- tions platform was easy, but Summit County Public Health also had to decide whether to put it in-house or let a provider host it. When Summit County consoli- dated three public health agencies into a single department in 2011, Voice Over IP was the obvious choice for replacing the aging analog phone systems with a single, unified com- munications platform. But there also was the decision of whether to buy the system from a vendor and host it in-house or to get a hosted service from a carrier. Cloud-hosted applications and software-, hardware- and platforms- as-a-service are increasingly popular options for cash-strapped agencies looking to save money and simplify their infrastructures, but Summit County chose to buy and operate its own system. Avoidance of long- term expenses and the simplicity of the Digium Switchvox system were the deciding factors, said the department s information systems manager Cory Kendrick. "Service from a telco is nice, but you don t have as much control and you have to pay a chunk of money every month," Kendrick said. "The up-front cost is low, but the ongoing costs are high." With the system up and running for about a year, Kendrick said the best feature of the new system is "the ability to run reports and see where we re having problems." Much of Summit County Public Health s work involves providing services and referrals to the public, and much of this is done by phone. The reports let managers see where calls are going, where they are being answered, where they are dropped and how long it takes to deal with problems and requests. This infor- mation is valuable for tuning the system s Interactive Voice Response function, which is the front end for routing incoming calls to the appro- priate o ce or person. This has been particularly impor- tant, because one of the biggest challenges in consolidating three separate agencies from the county and the cities of Akron and Barberton was merging the phone numbering systems for each agency. A study done by Kent State Uni- versity on the first year of consolida- tion identified the merging of IT and phone systems as one of the major challenges of the project, and the assigning of phone numbers was one of the trouble spots highlighted. Some numbers were lost or temporarily abandoned, with the result that calls were sometimes misdirected or lost. Kendrick said the technology for the new VOIP system was simple to deal with, but the biggest lesson learned in the transition was the preparation needed to understand- ing the numbering schemes when multiple systems are merged. Like proper management of any IT system, this requires discovery so that the current systems are fully understood and e ective plans can be made for a new system. --- William Jackson