Upgrading an outdated wi-fi network and moving from hosted to IP telephony has massively reduced the IT support burden, created significant cost savings and earned top marks from staff at Huddersfield New College.
Devised by voice, data and networking specialist Pennine the project began with thorough (and free) site-wide surveys of the existing services. The existing wi-fi system was found to suffer from slow speeds, signal drop-outs, blackspots and struggled to cope with demand, whilst the hosted telephony system was inflexible and lacked functionality.
Pennine’s tender-winning solution involved upgrading to a high-speed Meru network comprising a controller with 67 internal access points (APs) plus one external AP for the college’s playing fields which previously had no network coverage. This was to be complemented by EzRF WLAN network management software which offers powerful diagnostic, reporting and administrative tools.
This would support another of the college’s key aims – to encourage both staff and students to bring their own devices which, once authenticated, they could use over the network with their Microsoft Active Directory credentials.
The difference between old and new is marked as Rebecca Sutcliffe, the College’s IT Network manager, reports: “The system we had was struggling as when it was implemented we didn’t have the heavy usage requirements we have now. That meant we had to do a lot of channel balancing and I wanted to take that headache away from my team.”
“The new wi-fi network is great. Whilst we still do a few checks, there’s hardly any intervention needed from the IT team. Introducing the new firewall to support Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has resulted in a lot more staff and students accessing the wi-fi, you’d expect that to impact on the IT team but it hasn’t, we don’t get half as many support tickets and channel balancing the network is a thing of the past.”
Having access to free wifi is now considered as a standard requirement and it’s proving very popular with the 2,400 strong millennial generation student population, all aged between16-18, as well as staff. “This year’s student intake were straight on it asking how to access the network. Between 250-300 staff are also using it,” confirms Rebecca.
With the fast and robust network in place, attention turned to phase 2 of the project – the telephony upgrade. Pennine recommended installing Avaya’s IP Office deployed over SIP trunks and connected via Janet, the 100Gb high-speed network which serves the UK’s research and education communities.
The College accepted that recommendation due to the industry-standard nature of the platform and Pennine’s implementation experience. “We knew Pennine had handled IP Office installations at other colleges, especially Sixth Form Colleges and we had recommendations from other places that were using Pennine solutions. That gave us confidence and we could see that the proposed solution provided value for money.”
Indeed Rebecca reports that as a result of moving to SIP trunks the college has been able to cut its phone bills “quite drastically” whilst benefiting from the significantly enhanced functionality IP Office delivers. Free from the shackles of a cumbersome hosted platform, the IT staff can now quickly and easily programme the system to handle everyday tasks such as changing extension numbers and user names.
Staff meanwhile benefit from the easy-to-use Avaya 1608 handsets and convenient, productivity-enhancing features such as conference calling, call queuing and voicemail accessible both on and off site.
Arguably the biggest functional benefit is provided by the two Avaya SoftConsoles used by reception staff which have significantly eased and enhanced call handling. These yield at-a-glance overviews of the status of inbound calls and staff presence so that they can quickly and accurately direct callers to the most appropriate extension.
“Because reception staff previously only had a telephone handset, they didn’t have the ability to see if someone was on the phone before trying to put a call through. Now they have visibility and can deal with the call accordingly,” explains Rebecca.
The quality of the two-tiered solution has been matched by Pennine’s service which as well as covering installation has included product training for both the IT team and receptionists along with ongoing support for the wi-fi network and telephone system.
“Wi-fi and telephony are clearly specialist areas for Pennine and we’ve always found their staff really helpful,” enthuses Rebecca.