University of Birmingham rolls out unified communications

The University of Birmingham is about to roll out a unified messaging system to 500 staff.

The University of Birmingham is about to roll out a unified messaging system to 500 staff. The unifed communications strategy will eventually see voice, data, video messaging and presence integrated into a single system.

The plan began in mid 2007 when the university's head of telecoms, Rob Derbyshire, started a pilot project to integrate the university's phone system with Microsoft Exchange for 20 staff members in the IT department. The aim was to test whether it could improve an already high communications capability across the university.

Birmingham University has five academic colleges with more than 8,000 staff. It has one large site at Edbaston and two smaller sites in Sellyoaks and Stratford.

Rob Derbyshire said: "We currently operate two networked Aastra MD110 (formerly Ericsson) IP pbxs that support 300 users at Sellyoak and more than 7,000 at Edgbaston. In 2005 we added the 15 users from Stratford to the network via an IP solution."

Working with Damovo, which supplied the original telecoms system, Derbyshire integrated the pbxs with Microsoft Exchange. This enabled voicemail messages to be sent directly to an Outlook inbox, presenting them to the user whenever they logged on. Fax messages are also delivered in the same way, providing users with a single source for e-mail, voice and fax messages.

"The pilot has gone very well and our existing users all think it's great," Derbyshire said. "We now plan to roll it out to around 500 more staff within six to 12 months, and then to the rest of the university."

Derbyshire's next move was in autumn 2007. This was to integrate the Aastra MD110 at Edgbaston with the university's Microsoft Office Communication System (OCS) to provide a presence management and collaborative working.

Linking the two let users see who was free, busy, on the phone, away or offline simply by looking at their presence status within the on-screen Buddy List, or even from within a Microsoft Office document.

"This makes communication far more efficient as the caller can tell whether a colleague is likely to be able to respond immediately to an email or take a call, and if not, they can schedule a call-back for when that person becomes free," Derbyshire said.

The integration with Microsoft OCS also puts incoming calls on screen. Users simply click to pick up the call, which automatically takes their desk phone offhook.

The university has also started to trial Microsoft OCS Enterprise Voice. This should allow the user to control where a call goes after it comes into his or her main DDI number in the office. The user can set call forwarding to go to a home number, a mobile number or a different office number. Calls can even be routed to the user's laptop as a free Wi-Fi call, which saves money especially on roaming charges if the user is abroad.

"This will make a real difference to users, especially for those who work remotely or travel a lot," Derbyshire said. "It's true 'one number contactability' with complete flexibility and simple management."

Derbyshire's future plans include providing university-wide access to video calling, web collaboration, and instant messaging.

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