Unified Communications Delivers ROI
Charlotte County in South Florida faced a dilemma: spend a big chunk of money upfront in a tough economy to upgrade its telephone system, or shift to a new system that could open new communications opportunities for its users.
The solution, says Mark Ramsey, manager of IT operations for the county, is a new setup that taps the Cisco Systems unified communications system and Unity servers and call processing systems.
"Our phones hadn't been upgraded in six years," Ramsey says. "There was a budget crunch, and an upgrade for the existing system would cost $195,000."
Given the budget constraints, Ramsey and his staff determined that a multiyear, rolling installation of a new Cisco unified communications system would be the most cost effective approach. It would deliver a return on the county's investment in about six years, while providing a path to more advanced, IP-based communications across county agencies.
Photo Credit: Alex McKnight
The Cisco servers are tied to Microsoft Office, which will allow a single-user interface to provide user presence, IM, single-user phones, video and call-history logs -- features that can be used to fulfill public-records requests for that information, says Ramsey.
Additionally, the county has implemented Singlewire Software's InformaCast to add IP paging capabilities in emergency responder locations, he says. That capability lets the county combine paging capabilities within the unified system, eliminating standalone paging for those offices.
A side benefit of the IP-based unified communications system is its flexibility in disaster situations. Located on the Florida peninsula's west coast, the county is vulnerable to hurricanes. Because the system is IP-based, the county can easily establish virtual VPN connections, sidestepping the hazards that a hardwired telephone faces under similar circumstances.
The Cisco system networks about 2,200 handsets and other communications devices across multiple offices in the 700-square-mile county, including emergency services, tax property offices, and court clerk offices.
The decision to use a unified communications system instead of yet another upgrade to a more traditional telephone system is one that many state and local (and federal) agencies are facing. Government agencies spent $450 million in 2009 on unified communications platform technology, says Abner Germanow, director of IDC's enterprise communications infrastructure services.
The technology allows what had been multiple legacy agency telephone systems to be tied together with an ever- expanding range of IP-based capabilities. "Services like 911-over-SMS [Short Message Service], location-based services for social workers, librarians with IM capabilities and automated location-based emergency response are all possible," he says.
The Michigan State Police's Forensic Science Division faced a similar budget crunch in 2008 when demand for its expert testimony in drunk driving trials statewide increased significantly after the state tightened its blood alcohol limits.
Inspector Greg Michaud, assistant division commander for the MSP's forensic science division, says forensic specialists who were called to testify were burning money and spending too much time traveling to court hearings hundreds of miles apart. To handle the increasingly heavy demand on its forensics team, the division installed a Polycom VSX 7000s video conferencing system in its central Lansing laboratory. The system lets technicians testify remotely in trials across the state without having to drive, say, 300 miles to give 15 minutes of testimony.
Eventually, the MSP secured federal grant money to install Polycom HDX 4000 high-definition systems in its seven labs throughout the state. In addition to providing testimony transmission, the MSP also uses the systems for division and interoffice meetings, says Michaud.