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City University London virtualises telephony and contact centre systems

City University London replaces a 24-year-old comms setup with a virtualised, cloud-based contact centre system

City University London has moved its entire telephone system and contact centre into the cloud after deploying a virtualised communications platform from supplier Mitel.

With a student body of more than 19,000 and 2,000 employees, spread across 23 different sites and generating around 5,000 support calls daily, communications is a critical element of the organisation’s overall IT estate.

The impetus to upgrade the university’s contact centre system came about because supplier support for its existing Mitel MD110 – installed in 1991 – was about to end so it needed to find a new system quickly.

Its old network also lacked resilience, so for telecoms team lead Matthew Craughwell, it was also critical to ensure there was no single point of failure, while simultaneously reducing the amount of hardware across the network estate.

A customer of systems integrator Daisy Corporate Services – formerly Damovo UK – the university enlisted its existing supplier to support its transition to a fit-for-purpose system.

“We initially considered a number of unified communications providers, including the Mitel solution from our long-standing communications provider Daisy,” says Craughwell.

“In the end, Mitel was the best option, partly because we could upgrade rather than having to rip and replace, and also because of the integration potential and Mitel’s accreditation level with Microsoft.”

Upgrading the network

Under the terms of a five-year contract signed with the university, Daisy has now upgraded the core network, and swapped out the 24-year old MD110 for four virtualised Mitel MX-ONE platforms hosted in City University London’s own datacentre, with a further MX-ONE held in a separate facility to provide the needed resilience in case of failure.

Craughwell says a virtualised platform was clearly the best approach, because it means he didn’t have to replace 3,600 handsets or more, which would have been a massive and time-consuming expense.

“As a university, a large number of people rely on being able to get in touch with you around the clock. The decision to upgrade to a virtualised solution was an obvious choice,” he says.

“A lot of support is currently being withdrawn on older telephone systems, and we simply can’t risk being caught out without that all-important telephone system in place.

“Daisy installed a much more efficient system that would still operate with our handsets, and now we have the benefit of support around the clock, which costs us about the same as the 8am-6pm support we had previously,” Craughwell adds.

“It is important that organisations in the public sector are aware they could potentially find themselves without vital system support for their telephony solution,” says Daisy Corporate Services managing director John Holt.

The upgrade took place in the autumn of 2014, after clearing had finished – City University receives 8,000 calls a day at a 160 agent contact centre during the hectic weeks after A-Level results come out.

Daisy first upgraded the network environment to remove any single points of failure, and set up the MX-ONE environment, after which it began work on rewiring the 3,600 extensions and installing 21 media gateways, one for each site on campus.

Sticking with the Mitel theme, it also moved City University’s Solidus contact centre platform to a virtualised environment, replaced old operator workstations with InAttend applications, and switched the service desk from Desktop Manager to BluStar Web.

The network was up and running at the end of November 2014, with minimal disruption to staff, notes Caughwell, who adds that some of the university’s directors had said they didn’t notice anything different.

Benefits realised

A year on, City University is realising a number of benefits, including substantial power cost savings from eliminating physical equipment.

Caughwell also picks out in-built resilience in the network and VMware environment that ensures the service has operated without downtime, and improved fault reporting capabilities and network intelligence.

“Students are paying more now and they are expecting more from us, so we wanted to be able to offer 24/7 support,” he says. “Having this in place now ensures we can keep the service running with the maximum amount of uptime.

“If there are any problems, they are logged and promptly dealt with before our students or staff even become aware of the issue.”

Moving ahead, Caughwell says the university hopes to eke out further savings by fully migrating to IP phones, saving wiring and manpower on installation and service, as well as further bolstering the network’s resilience.

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