Accrington & Rossendale College has awarded top marks to Pennine for an IP telephony upgrade that has delivered substantial savings, boosted efficiency and improved communications.
Responsible for educating as many as 10,000 full and part-time students annually across five sites in Lancashire, Accrington & Rossendale College (ACCROSS) naturally places a high priority on effective communications.
With this in mind IT Operations Director Ric Kelly was keen to upgrade an ageing analogue system with a feature rich internet telephony platform.
“There were two main business drivers,” he explains. “The first was that our Nortel system was very, very old, end-of-life and no longer supported so we couldn’t get maintenance on it. Secondly we weren’t realising the benefits of a modern communications system. We had old fashioned analogue ‘phones without caller ID and all those much richer features which are now available.”
In looking to upgrade Ric put the contract out to tender which was won by incumbent supplier, Pennine, the Bury-based data and telecommunications specialist that had previously assisted the college in unbundling a complex knot of telephony contracts – saving it £5,000 per annum.
“We did quite a rigorous tender and when we scored suppliers, Pennine Telecom came out best for lots of different reasons,” he recalls. “They were competitive, offer a good support package and have got lots of qualified engineers. We also know and trust Pennine, so we knew that they would deliver the right service.”
As for the new technology, having evaluated the market the college opted for Avaya IP Office, tailored by Pennine to meet its needs and augmented by an IP Office Resilient failover system and the manufacturer’s 1608 handset to serve its 342 extensions. “We looked at a number of solutions but we wanted a market leader, a tried and tested system that was scalable. We also wanted a lot of wraparound features, powerful software offering additional productivity such as softphones and links to Outlook.”
Cost efficiency was also a priority and one that the upgrade swiftly provided. The Avaya IP Office system is linked to Janet, a network infrastructure funded by the government’s Joint Information Systems Committee and which enables educational and research establishments to connect and collaborate. It provides ACCROSS with a robust broadband connection and, through SIP over Janet, the ability to benefit from IP telephony. “We can now get our telephony delivered through the same data line so we’ve got rid of an old ISDN circuit with 30 channels and replaced that with SIP over Janet,” explains Ric. “This meant we didn’t have to have ISDN cards and the costs that came with them, but the main benefit is in the monthly line rental savings, per channel, per month. Those are significant.”
Implementation of IP Office has also eliminated practical headaches and cut costs – by some £2,520 annually – associated with various legacy systems that were operational at the college’s five sites. “Whilst we had one main ‘phone system here, we also had for instance a very old one at our Globe Centre. We were paying £210 a month just to support a handful of staff with individual DDIs and analogue phones who couldn’t even call external extensions, they had to know the specific number of the person they were calling,” says Ric.
Other benefits include the provision of a softconsole for the reception staff which allows for much more efficient call handling. “The receptionist can group individuals by team or expertise so she doesn’t have to remember who they are, or go through directories, just click a tab. It also enables her to do quick searches using her mouse and keyboard. It’s much more efficient and quick.”
In addition senior management staff have access to efficiency enhancing applications such as desktop and mobile assistant. These allow them, for example, to use their smartphones as an extension so they can pick up calls and voicemails from the main network whilst they’re on the go.
Another cost saving has been enabled by Pennine engineers training ACCROSS’s in-house techies so that they can handle day-to-day tasks such as adding, moving or changing extensions. “We only pay the very minimum in maintenance to Pennine so that we’re covered in the event of a failure or something like that,” confirms Ric. “Pennine trained our engineers so we can do a lot on our own.”
The training was, he says, superb. “I was really happy with it as I always have been with Pennine. The engineers they send out are obviously very knowledgeable but they can deliver training to a wide audience, break it down for those who are not as technical and really ramp it up for the guys that are.”
That training and the support provided by Pennine meant transition from the analogue to digital system ran exceptionally smoothly, the bulk of the work being carried out over a weekend with just a few remaining peripheral extensions installed over the following days. This naturally meant disruption to everyday college life was kept to the barest minimum.
“It was pretty straightforward. The lines were transferred over in a couple of hours and, as we had pre-programmed a lot of the ‘phones and planned where they were going, it was then literally just a case of unboxing them and plugging them in. It was much more a logistical than a technical challenge.”
Even so the thought of replacing those legacy systems with a brand new unified network, switching from analogue to SIP connections, must have led to some interrupted sleep? Apparently not. “I wasn’t worried about migrating to SIP trunks, that the process wouldn’t run OK because Pennine have delivered time and time again for us and, sure enough, we didn’t have any issues. We know they’ll deliver, that they’ll sort things for us.”