Making a Business Case for VoIP

Stanislaus County's John Emerson discusses the benefits of a VoIP implementation, while emphasizing the need to place customers and the county first.

A number of municipal governments are currently evaluating whether to interface their aging telecommunications systems with newer Internet Protocol-based technology or to scrap their legacy hardware and go with an IP-only infrastructure. I should know: It’s an issue that Stanislaus County is addressing right now.

When approaching any new project, I’m adamant that we don’t position or perceive it as a technology project. Business needs should always be the key driver for any new initiatives involving technology.

If our business leaders own a project that is aligned to their needs, we’re almost ensured of having a better implementation because they’ve asked for the technology, participated in the process and can’t wait to get their hands on a tool that will help them do their jobs more effectively.

Weighing Business Benefits

We did not view the decision to implement a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system in terms of the infrastructure management benefits that IT would gain from putting voice and data on the same network. Instead, we considered the integrated messaging and management, wireless access and billing efficiencies that the county would gain in terms of productivity, cost reductions and connectivity.

Our business case looked at six different areas: aligning with the board’s priorities, customer service improvements, capacity for expansion, business process improvements, the capabilities of the new system and the return on investment. From an ROI standpoint, we will reduce the number of servers needed by the county. From a business process perspective, we might offer a wider base of support.

Building a Solid Plan

In Stanislaus County, the telecom infrastructure supports critical operations, such as the sheriff’s offices, a mental-health hospital and other vital services. So, while we staged our implementation with a gradual rollout, we also put together a solid plan to ensure that a technology upgrade wouldn’t stall service delivery.

Though we haven’t yet selected the vendor, we will ensure that our staff remains the first line of defense for the county. With certification on the selected vendor’s products, the same telecom team that managed the legacy system will also manage the new system. That’s critical, because when the phone system goes down, we’re in trouble. The sheriff’s offices and our hospitals won’t accept reduced service levels.

If you approach a major implementation methodically and strategically, and run a risk management analysis, it will point out critical needs. But making sure that there’s no disruption to users is the last, and probably the most important, part of our strategic rollout.

Of our 25 different departments, some are go-getters. We’ll ensure that they participate in the first phase of the rollout, because they’ll take advantage of the advanced features and tell their colleagues about it. Then we’ll go to different parts of the organization and make sure that each department can utilize the new technology with no disruption to the end user or the services that citizens receive.

It’s hard to isolate the technology from the infrastructure. That’s why standards are so critical. If the system doesn’t work, then what’s at fault: the local application, a desktop computer or the network? There’s no such thing as a standalone product anymore.

Oct 31 2006