Cities Could Make Desktop Phones a Thing of the Past

The move from nearly obsolete PBX to smartphones or more collaborative telecommunications options helps to attract new talent and slash unnecessary spending.

It’s no secret that desk phones, like payphones, are going the way of the dinosaur. In fact, according to research from IDC, 75 percent of the U.S. workforce will be mobile by 2020.

To cut costs and align workflow with actual staff usage, some city governments are considering ditching the desktop phone for good and instead investing in more reliable and robust broadband infrastructure to support the use of more mobile technologies.

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Palo Alto Replaces Desktops with Smartphones

In the tech-forward city of Palo Alto, Calif., for example, the city government recently launched a pilot that swaps desktops for smartphones that can route calls and chats through a laptop, StateScoop reports. The pilot aims to mimic the culture of Silicon Valley businesses — and employees’ personal lives — where the move to smartphones is nearly ubiquitous, Palo Alto Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental recently told the source.

“You have this question that if you are a mid-sized or large organization in a city — is it worth continuing to maintain or invest in an infrastructure that less and less people use and where there are preferred alternatives?” Reichental said.

The move is also poised to help the city government attract millennial talent as the Silver Tsunami approaches and enticing younger employees to the public sector becomes increasingly urgent. However, the cultural shift for older employees could prove to be a major issue.

“There is still a big piece of corporate culture, and organizational culture that needs to change,” Reichental told the site. “I think somebody who has spent most of their career with a desktop phone will struggle with just with the idea of not having them, let alone the implementation of transition away from them. I think you’d see intense pushback if this transition were to happen all at once.”

Still, the cost benefit alone could make the pilot project — which still has no official launch date or timeline — worth the effort.

We incur significant cost because of these phones, and the analysis is beginning to show that they are an unnecessary infrastructure in the medium to long term,” Reichental said.

Mentor, Ohio Trims the Budget with the Move Away from PBX

Perhaps less extreme than the move to smartphones is Mentor, Ohio, which recently updated to a modern collaboration system from Cisco Systems that supports far more than person-to-person calls when it learned that its outdated PBX phone system was costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

“We were being billed for services to a building that had been torn down and turned into a parking lot,” Ali Seyhan, the city’s chief technology officer, told StateTech in an earlier interview.

Seyhan estimates the upgrade will save the city government $1 million over the next five years — or $37,000 in monthly expenses — by creating greater transparency into their phone usage and eliminating obsolete phone charges, including those from employees that had long ago left the city and still had phone lines in their name.

“I would almost guarantee that every municipality and state have similar issues,” Seyhan says. “People quit or retire, and information about phone services does not get communicated because detailed documentation is not in place.”

MartinPrescott/Getty Images
May 23 2018