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Gamma was the most competitive, and when we learned that the other four vendors planned to use Gamma as the backhaul provider for the SIP trunks we decided we’d be in good company if we simply went straight to the source, so to speak.

Andy Tyne, Senior Technician, University of Essex

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University of Essex passes Clearing test with Gamma Inbound call management solution

The University of Essex (UOE) scooped the University of the Year award in the Times Higher Education Awards 2018.

Widely recognised as the Oscars of higher education, the awards are now in their 14th year of highlighting the exceptional achievements of individuals, teams and institutions.

The award was made to UOE after a series of bold initiatives in 2016/17 that included abolishing the gender pay gap for staff, and moving to a student recruitment strategy based on potential, not just prior achievement, and where more than a third of resulting student recruits are from families with an annual income of less than £25,000.

The award citation notes that by putting staff and students first, UOE has every right to its claim to be ‘a home for staff and students who want to make the world a better place.’

The challenge

A fast-growing institution, the UOE employs more than 2,100 staff supporting more than 15,000 students across campuses located in Colchester, Loughton and Southend on Sea. The speed of growth places extra importance on the clearing round when the university competes with others all over the UK each year to attract newcomers. Would-be students are invited to phone the university and discuss their grades with the aim of securing an in-principle offer of a place on the degree course of their choice.

The process puts enormous strain on the university’s telephony systems – and its people too. Says UOE’s Andy Tyne, senior technician (telecoms): “We receive some 6,000 calls in just the first few days and run a team of 80 people whose sole job during that time is to take the calls. It’s one of the most important and pressured times of year for us; one of those events for which the term mission critical is genuinely appropriate.”

In 2015 with its ambitious growth programme in the works, the UOE decided that the legacy ISDN-based phone system used to take clearing calls as well as serve as a general telecommunications platform for day-to-day activity should be replaced with a less costly, more reliable and more flexible solution. Five contending providers of SIP trunks were invited to tender. It was Gamma that came out on top.

The solution

Gamma’s solution was to carry out a phased switch-over at the university’s multiple sites, integrating with the university’s JANET connection, migrating some 3,000 existing direct dial phone numbers to the new SIP-based system, and adding a further range of 1,000 numbers to cope with a planned expansion of the system. “We’d been expecting some disruption but, in the event, it was a well-managed and painless process,” noted Tyne.

With the core connectivity in place, the next move was to deploy Gamma’s Inbound Service to provide a previously unachievable level of flexibility and fail-over capability that was to really come into its own during the next and subsequent clearing rounds.

The results

As expected, the UOE saw its overall call costs fall substantially, despite growth in traffic. Reliability – previously a frequent headache for Tyne and his colleagues – is no longer an issue.

In the run-up to the clearing window the number of SIP trunks is temporarily flexed upwards to increase call capability, then ramped back down again once the pressure is off, thus avoiding UOE paying continuously for capacity that it only needs for part of the year.

The overall solution has proved so robust, so flexible and so affordable, that the UOE has recently extended Gamma’s contract for a further three years.

And what of Tyne’s personal views on the relationship with Gamma? He says that the technology is only part of the story. “On the occasions I’ve had to contact the helpdesk the technicians that respond are true professionals. Our experience has given us the confidence that there will be rapid and effective action. We know that they will do their job so that we can continue to do ours.”

The benefits

  • More reliable, more flexible and less costly than ISDN
  • Janet connectivity achieves further cost reductions
  • Swift provision of temporary extra capacity for clearing window
  • Inbound solution adds intelligent call routing for
    • Enhanced robustness
    • Enhanced call handling efficiency
  • Responsive, effective technical support