Pennine’s upgrade of a hybrid system to a SIP solution hosting Microsoft Skype for Business and Office 365 has transformed how students and staff work at the City of Liverpool College.
When you’re responsible for an IT infrastructure serving some 11,000 students and hundreds of staff across five campuses, you don’t embark on a major system upgrade without careful thought.
Throw into the mix around 3,500 desktop and 400 mobile devices operating across an end-of-life hybrid platform, and you tread particularly cautious steps.
That’s exactly what Ken Ryan, director of IT at the City of Liverpool College, did when looking at upgrading Microsoft Lync to Skype for Business whilst simultaneously moving from an analogue network to SIP trunking.
“We had a legacy Microsoft Lync system that was installed in 2012,” he recalls. “It made sense to upgrade to Skype for Business.
“We also had an analogue system, based on Siemens switches, which was no longer supported. So we saw an opportunity when moving to Skype for Business to also lever the savings offered by SIP trunking.”
Theoretically this made perfect sense. But putting it into practice meant finding a provider who could be trusted to deliver.
The right partner
“We needed to find the right partner, a company that had the required background and expertise,” says Ken. “We looked at Pennine to make sure we had someone who already had a longstanding relationship with the further education sector, particularly with Skype for Business.
“We’d worked with Pennine in the past with complete satisfaction so I had no issues using them as a company.”
That confidence paid off with Pennine smoothly delivering a solution which Ken reports has transformed how staff and students work and communicate. It has also yielded major cost-savings.
First, those transformative powers.
Skype for Business, Lync’s highly sophisticated successor, has been warmly embraced. Users not only like its modern and intuitive interface, but its functionality.
“Telephone conferencing is used a lot and very effectively, throughout the organisation, from executive level through to the senior leadership team. It saves a great deal of time and expense,” says Ken.
The application’s Presence feature has also proven invaluable in an institution where key staff – teachers – are necessarily away from their desks for long periods of times.
“What we’ve done is upload their timetables into Skype for Business as meetings. When we’re trying to connect with teachers, we can see instantly when they’re busy. That means we don’t waste time waiting for a ‘phone to be answered because we know they’re not actually there.”
That facility has also proven vital in a busy 15 seat contact centre. Handling upwards of 700 calls daily, it is now not only more efficient but can offer a better service.
“We know instantly when someone is not available and can give the caller equally instant feedback.”
In addition provision by Pennine of a cutting-edge third party contact centre application has helped management of those significant call volumes.
This highlights another benefit brought to the college by the all-embracing service its portfolio of specialisms – which includes unified communications, networking and telephony – enables.
“One of the great things about Pennine is the company’s ability to work with third party providers. This works really well for me because it puts all my eggs in one basket to make sure the system is fully supported in every respect,” says Ken.
Should an issue arise he’s no longer caught playing piggy-in-the-middle when determining responsibility for resolution. “I don’t have to contact other companies, everything goes through Pennine.”
Skype for Business’s screen-sharing feature has been a personal hit with Ken. Users with presenter privileges can share specific content or programme on their desktop with invited users.
“The facility to share desktops is phenomenal,” he enthuses. “My service team often help end-users with problems, either showing them around new software or resolving issues for them.”
Praise is also directed towards the Skype for Business interface which is said be easier to use than its predecessor and more in keeping with the Microsoft Office suite.
Alongside the Lync upgrade, the college also introduced Office 365, Microsoft’s powerful applications and services platform. This brings together not just Office essentials like Word, Excel and Outlook, but cloud-based storage and a variety of collaboration tools.
At the City of Liverpool College it’s proven transformative.
“Office 365 has changed the face of the organisation in terms of the ability for collaboration and work any place at any time through One Drive,” says Ken. “Students find it absolutely amazing that they can work on their projects in college and then anywhere in the world.
“Both students and staff also use SharePoint a great deal for collaboration.”
Significant financial benefits
Meanwhile the college’s telephony costs have been significantly reduced. Savings have been secured by moving from an analogue Siemens switch to SIP trunking – enabling Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling – and consolidating telephony into a single Pennine call plan.
“Taking into account previous costs relating to switch and system support, analogue call billing and Lync licensing, we’re saving over £52,000 a year,” reports Ken.
So, as well as transforming and enhancing how staff and students work and communicate, Pennine’s solution is reducing the financial burden at one of the UK biggest FE colleges.
It seems then, that the Bury-based data and telecommunications specialist has proven itself top of the class!