San Bernardino County, Calif., rolled out unified communications about five years ago, mainly for the presence feature.
Jake Cordova, division chief of the county’s IS department, says San Bernardino County had been seeking a way to communicate electronically without using its email system. “It really made things efficient for us to know if a person was in or out,” he says. “The technology added a layer of communications that was a real asset.”
The original system was Microsoft-based and today, the county has upgraded to Microsoft Lync 2013. Cordova says county workers will use the instant messaging feature as well as conduct video conferencing.
“The video conferences are more for staff meetings,” Cordova says. “We’ll use them especially in situations where people could be stuck in traffic and take two to three hours to drive back and forth. It will save travel time.”
Michael Mouser, the department’s division manager, says while video usage is still limited, county workers have expressed a great deal of interest in using Lync’s collaboration features. “We see a lot of remote screen sharing where people pull up a document at the same time and collaborate,” he says.
The county opted not to use softphones and still runs voice calls over Cisco Systems IP phones.
Cordova says the county had too much of a legacy investment in their private branch exchange phone system for them to change; plus, the main features that most people want are presence, instant messaging and video conferencing.
Rich Costello, senior research analyst for unified communications for IDC, says that San Bernardino’s use of video conferencing makes perfect sense.
“We see a lot of local governments that are facing budget cutbacks looking for ways to be more efficient, and video conferencing helps them by cutting down on travel time and making it easier to collaborate,” Costello says. “Given the pressure to cut costs and improve efficiencies, there’s no question that there’s an upward trend of video use in the public sector.”
Governments Are Outsourcing the Call Center
Bellverie Ross, senior program manager for the city of Charlotte, N.C., says her group outsourced the deployment of Cisco Systems Unified Contact Center Enterprise (UCCE) to shore up the city’s call center for the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
Ross says the call center was slated for an upgrade anyway, but the convention accelerated the schedule. The system in use was almost a decade old, she says, and it didn’t have presence, IM or the ability to do video or web conferences.
The city decided to outsource management of the call center because it determined it was too expensive to run such a complicated system in-house. “We went the hosted route because we felt we could save money and take advantage of the expertise of the private sector by outsourcing,” she says.
For the first year, Charlotte mainly used the basic call center platform within UCCE. Ross says it offers better reporting tools, and the city saves on equipment maintenance by outsourcing.
Moving forward, Ross says the city will take more advantage of the presence, IM, video conferencing and collaboration features UCCE offers. She says while it’s possible that some call center workers will run video conference sessions with the public, she expects that the city’s human resources and corporate communications departments especially will take advantage of the new UC features.
“People will use video conferencing internally for meetings,” she adds. “And when people work from home, they can run web conferences over WebEx.”
UC Project Pointers
Rich Costello, senior research analyst for unified communications for IDC, offers five tips for IT managers looking to deploy UC.
- Find out what people want. With the help of the agency’s end users, identify the UC technologies, features and applications that are most appropriate for the organization. If needed, educate end users about the technology.
- Decide if outsourcing makes sense. Do a realistic inventory of your internal capabilities and determine which manufacturers and channel partners the organization will need for UC installation, support and professional services expertise.
- Set specific use cases. Ask the manufacturer or channel partner for business use cases for government to help ease project justification and deployment concerns. Clear and articulated use cases can help demonstrate potential ROI.
- Consider forming a UC center of excellence. Designate a group that brings together individuals from various areas of the agency — such as IT, business applications and customer service — to provide guidance and direction for UC plans, project development and ongoing usage. This group could be formed early on for any UC undertaking or, ideally, once more experience and feedback have been gained from initial projects.
- Decide between premises-based or cloud UC. There are benefits to each. An increasing number of cloud-based UC offerings are available today, and transitioning to the cloud can help governments reduce operating costs, improve application performance and better allocate IT resources. Premises-based solutions offer ownership and typically more control over security, quality of service and application development.