Are Education Institutions Making the Best of VoIP Phone Capabilities?

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Educational institutions are one of many types of organizations that can benefit greatly from VoIP phone capabilities and technology. Some schools are taking great advantage of these benefits, allowing others to follow their lead. In two case studies discussed below, two schools saved a great deal of money by implementing VoIP which was then able to be routed back into the school’s programs, scholarships, and infrastructure.

Case Study 1: University of Pennsylvania

VoIP Phone Capabilities for the University of Pennsylvania

Overview: The University of Pennsylvania has over 22,000 students and an operating budget over $3B. They chose to implement their own open-source VoIP system using SIP trunks and in-house development, saving over $1M a year in the telephony budget.

The University of Pennsylvania, like most major schools, has tens of thousands of students and in dozens of programs. Penn’s technology department consists of 9 units with over 300 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. School administration looks to the department for technical leadership and infrastructure. Initially, Networking & Telecommunications had a $25M budget.

Penn leadership had a vision for high-tech telephony that started in the mid-90’s, when a vision was set with strategic plans and annual goals toward building a more efficient system. They began working on an IP infrastructure in 1999, eventually developing a structure with 99.99% reliability for key systems and 99.95% reliability for services. All of this preparation paid off in 2004 as they began to examine their options for VoIP telephony. Because of their extensive groundwork, they chose to focus on building their own open-source VoIP infrastructure to cover the campus.

The goal of introducing VoIP was considerable cost-savings, along with enhancing customer service and increasing functionality. Their land-line systems were becoming increasingly difficult to maintain and were costing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Contracted technical staff salaries were costing just as much, as were telephone usage charges. In addition, any changes to the telephony took several days, while changes within VoIP can be accomplished within hours, causing much less inconvenience. Finally, Penn understood that students and staff were only becoming more mobile, and features such as delivering voicemail to email are increasingly important.

The result of the implementation was stunning success. The VoIP system reduced the telephony operating budget over $1M per year, and the savings were returned to the school for research, financial aid, building maintenance, and new initiatives. They found that the telecommunication savings exceeded investment within five years. Penn is continuing to pursue cost savings through SIP trunking and integration with other IT services.

Case Study 2: The University of Louisville

VoIP Phone Capabilities at University of LouisvilleOverview: While the University’s technology department initially faced resistance to its suggestions of implementing VoIP, it won project approval in 2006 and today UofL operates 10,000 VoIP phones, saving the school approximately $1.5M per year in telephony costs. In addition, the VoIP system is leveraged to create an emergency-alert system that can transmit voice and text messages to every VoIP receiver in minutes.

The University of Louisville boasts over 21,000 students on three campuses. Nearly 6,200 faculty and staff work at the school.

The IT department began to move toward VoIP in 2002, when they obtained a grant to fund a pilot of using VoIP for all the department’s phones. The technology was new, and there were issues, but the staff was impressed as they gained experience with the technology. They realized the cost savings available, and began to pitch the idea to senior administrators. While the administration had fully supported other technological advances, such as a complete system upgrade in 2003, they were initially wary because no other large schools had implemented a VoIP concept at the time. IT overcame the objections by gradually expanding the IT pilot throughout campus.

Administrators realized over time that their various concerns were unfounded, and in 2006 gave the go-ahead to implement a $4.5M VoIP project, which IT would then pay off with budget savings over four to five years. The IT department became the university’s phone provider, charging for units of use rather than the school paying an outside provider.

The campus staff saw immediate benefits. The ability to forward calls to cell phones increased staff responsiveness while traveling, and cost savings exceeded the initial estimates. IT applied savings of $1.5M per year toward the project cost, and after repayment the department invested in IT fiscal self-sufficiency, reducing stress on the central university budget.

If your school is considering VoIP telephony, the examples of the University of Pennsylvania and University of Louisville show the many benefits of this approach. Cost savings are significant, and increased functionality allows additional services such as the emergency system at UofL. With costs increasing in every sector, significant savings in telephony can directly enhance the success of your school.