When Portsmouth City Council achieved a cut-price deal for an IP telephony infrastructure it quickly realised the technology offered much more than just cost savings.
The council, which employs 120 IT workers to support a total of 5000 staff, faced a choice when its 20-year-old analogue telephone system became unsupportable.
Mel Burns, head of ICT at Portsmouth City Council, said the authority had three choices:
The council could have replaced the analogue system like for like; prepared itself for IP telephony; or gone for a complete IP telephony system.
“We really wanted a full-blown IP telephony system, which would cost about £2.4m, but we were only given £1m to do this by councillors and by our estimation we could only really replace like for like with that amount,” saids Burns.
But a buying framework agreement that provides IT services to local councils across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, known as HPSN2, meant it could afford an IP telephony system from Virgin Media Business and Cisco.
The system was made all the more affordable through an agreement with Cisco that the networking giant would buy the legacy equipment from the council.
“It was a good deal and Virgin Media Business was very aggressive on price,” said Burns.
She says that although price is not the only consideration it is increasingly important given the reduced local government budgets: “Local government cannot risk wasting money anymore.
Flexibility for staff is perhaps the biggest business advantage other than cost effectiveness, with workers contactable on the same number regardless of where they are and what phone hardware they are using. Because all the information is processed in one place, workers taking calls will have what they need to quickly resolve issues for callers
One of the main benefits to the IT department is the fact the telephony system now runs on the organisation's existing IT network.
“We only have one infrastructure to manage now and one team, rather than two separate teams to manage it,” said Burns. Two dedicated staff working on the previous telephony system were no longer required for that role.
The single infrastructure means that energy consumption has reduced and has freed up space by emptying a room which is now being used by the IT department to store equipment as part of the council’s migration to Windows 7.
Burns says the council’s move to IP telephony has the added bonus of attracting IT staff: “I am able to attract the IT resources I need from outside because they want to work with this technology.
“For many it’s a whole new technology and the experience working with it will help their careers.”
She says the new system is working well 12 months after completing the upgrade, which happened without disruption: “The council staff did not notice any difference apart from a new phone appearing on their desks.”
Burns emphasises that the migration was a challenge that the IT department had to plan rigorously. As a city council the organisation could not afford any periods when it was unable to support citizens, so network downtime was not an option: “The project was hard work in the planning because we had to get it right.”