Assess, Select and Execute

How to improve and expand your campus communications strategy — and save money

GUEST COLUMN | by Corey Fling

Point LomaAfter one hundred and eleven years, there’s been more than a few updates at our institute of learning. Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) was established in 1902 and is comprised of a forward-thinking staff and more than 3,500 students. Nationally recognized for its leadership in sustainability, and debate championships, as well as other significant achievement, the University’s focus on quality communications among staff, students and community now extends to its VoIP (voice over IP) solution.

Our IT department at PLNU was operating a legacy Nortel PBX system that only provided a limited set of features, along with a small Cisco VoIP implementation that amounted to 20 percent of the total communication system. After maintaining the Cisco phone environment for six years, the VoIP equipment needed to be upgraded. Following a deeper evaluation of replacement costs and ongoing maintenance expense, the IT department at PLNU decided to re-examine its VoIP strategy and chose to implement ShoreTel. While researching new solutions, we found that other systems were too complex for what we needed. The new solution provided one interface to manage, and the total cost of interface was less than the other options.

PLNU chose a Unified Communications (UC) solution that includes that company’s Communicator, e911 Notification Application, Enhanced Paging, 1,000 IP Phones, as well as the licensing and switching necessary to support the main campus and all remote locations.

In addition, we have virtualized — as part of our solution provider’s VMware application virtualization strategy. Our partner company has earned VMware Ready™ status, a detailed evaluation and testing process managed by VMware. The ability to virtualize key applications complements our distributed architecture and allows organizations like us to take advantage of virtualized infrastructure benefits, such as server consolidation, increased security, operational flexibility and higher applications availability during planned and unplanned downtime in order to achieve cost savings and business continuity objectives.

We also integrated a service appliance that facilitates audio/web conferencing as well as instant messaging, adding even further to cost savings. With continued development, PLNU is exploring other service offerings such as unified messaging integrated with Google Apps for Education (Gmail) and device mobility with a mobility product.  These and other enhancements allow us to stay ahead of the curve and continually enhance communication within the university. What have been the benefits and has it all been worth it? Yes. Here’s what we’ve accomplished:

•            Cost savings of US $533,000 over 5 years

•            Simplified administration and no need to hire expert phone staff

•            Broadcast capabilities and emergency 911 notification deployment

•            Unified, reliable collaboration tools for better customer service

Unlike other IT projects of this magnitude, the IT team at PLNU encountered only minimal challenges and with the simplicity of our implemented solutions, we were able to easily overcome any minor issues that came our way.

The benefit our particular solution provider brought was the ability to completely virtualize the PBX management servers, as part of our VMware application virtualization strategy, and not have to invest into server hardware initially or on a recurring basis when the maintenance schedule elapsed. This resulted in less hardware, less maintenance, and lower costs.

We’ve gained a solution with built-in redundancy, pervasively simplified communications, increased service satisfaction, better reporting capabilities, and reduced annual and long-term spending.

Lessons Learned

One should look for a partner that provides you with broad toolsets for improving and expanding how you interact, and ensures that technology isn’t a barrier to your university’s communications strategy — and all this while saving you money.

In short, when implementing a new UC solution IT leaders must assess, select and execute.

You must first assess the needs of your organization and what type of technology will best fit with the IT culture and needs of your organization. Second, you must select a solution that fits those needs the most appropriately. Selecting a solution that provides the most appropriate functions for your team is key, no more and no less.

Lastly, execute on your plan and begin implementation of your new solution!

With these steps, you are sure to successfully implement a product that will have lasting benefits to you and your organization. We did it, and so can you.

Corey Fling is the chief information officer of Point Loma Nazarene University. Prior to being appointed as CIO, he was director of network services and telecommunications at the university. Write to: coreyfling@pointloma.edu

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