Unified communications keep Montana workers connected, freeing them from traveling for miles on the highway for meetings, conferences and collaborative work.

Spanning the Miles

Spotlight on Unified Communications

Former Montana Sen. Conrad Burns often described his state as having "a lot of dirt between light bulbs." Indeed, Montana is the fourth largest state in America, yet has a population of fewer than 1 million.

With more than 600 state offices spread throughout Big Sky Country, travel for state workers can be extensive and expensive, says Chief Technology Officer Stuart Fuller. After fielding many customer requests for instant messaging and desktop video conferencing, the Information Technology Services Division began piloting unified communications two years ago.

Montana already had the underpinnings for UC in the form of centralized Microsoft Exchange e-mail and a single enterprisewide Active Directory deployment, along with Nortel private branch exchange phone systems. "We also signed a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement so we already had the licenses for Office Communicator 2007," Fuller says. The IT group is currently upgrading Communicator to Microsoft Lync 2010, the next-generation UC client.

The state recently purchased a video conferencing bridge that is Session Initiation Protocol–compliant. "The foundation for all of this is SIP," Fuller says. "SIP is our standard that we're going to use to intercommunicate for voice, video and data."

During the UC trial, which included about 40 users, the IT division resolved any technical challenges and gained a greater understanding of the technology's capabilities.

"We're trying to give choice and options to our customers to fit their business needs," Fuller explains. Starting July 1, the agency will offer customers a choice of two UC services. There's Lite, which includes instant messaging, presence, Live Meeting and desktop video, while Phone adds telephony features such as softphones and voicemail on Exchange.

For more information about UC in state and local government, go to cdwg.com/uctrackingpoll.

The IT group has seen improved collaboration in state offices during the UC trial. "You don't realize how much you rely on presence until you have it," Fuller says. Instant messaging can boost productivity in the call center, softphones expedite workgroup moves, and video conferencing supports a green initiative and helps the state cope with rising gas prices.

"ROI is going to be one of those things that's hard to capture," says Fuller. "But UC is such an enabling technology, and there are a lot of applications that we just don't know about yet."

Voices

"Delaware's unified communications deployment aids telework, allowing employees to continue to be productive while working remotely."

-- Bill Hickox, chief operating officer, Delaware Department of Technology and Information

"Because voicemail is stored on Cisco Unity Server, it keeps our Exchange Server from having to store large audio files, which makes our storage team happy."

-- Forest Frizzell, deputy director of department of information technology, city and county of Honolulu

"It was easy to see that unified communications is simple to support and has a low cost of ownership."

-- Steve Schmidt, information technology manager, city of San Luis Obispo, Calif.

"We were looking to improve productivity by putting everybody on the same system, save time and money, improve customer service, and find a better solution for getting work accomplished."

-- Ann Roland, IT manager, Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, Calif.

By the Numbers

55%

States and localities that are evaluating, deploying or have fully implemented UC using a cloud model

No. 1

Increased productivity is cited as the top benefit of UC deployment in state and local government.

No. 2

The reduction of operating costs is the second most-cited benefit of UC deployments, followed by more effective use of remote/mobile workers.

11%

Percentage of state and local governments that have fully implemented UC, compared with 16% across all organizations

Zero

Year-over-year change in percentage of state and local governments planning UC adoption, which stood at 39% in 2010 and 2011

76 percent

Percentage of organizations whose UC investment has met or exceeded expectations, among those who have complete rollouts and track ROI

Source: CDW·G 2011 Unified Communications Tracking Poll

Together Forever

Microsoft recently replaced Office Communications Server 2007 with Microsoft Lync Server 2010, a unified communications platform that delivers voice; instant messaging; and audio, video and web conferencing through a single interface. The platform complements a state or local government's existing PBX via Session Initiation Protocol, or could be used to replace a PBX.

Integration with Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and Office applications boosts collaboration, even outside the firewall. What's more, the Lync 2010 application programming interface allows developers to embed communications into applications
or business processes to automate workflow.

Users can connect with others on public IM networks such as AOL, Windows Live and Yahoo. And support for third-party video conferencing systems enables organizations to use their existing investments.

<p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/plant_diversity/3912058234/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_blank">Matt Lavin /Flickr</a></p>
Jun 23 2011