Changing The Academic Landscape

PUBLIC SECTOR

Unify Issue 4

In Glasgow, the nautical faculty at the city’s college has partnered with Gamma to slash line rental and calls costs by 40% despite a two-fold increase in call volumes. In Newcastle, Northumbria University makes year-round savings by combining Gamma SIP trunks with an on-site PBX, backed-up by temporary roll-out and roll-back of Gamma’s Horizon cloud hosted telephony platform to cope with seasonal peaks and disaster recovery needs.

Convergence

Both stories illustrate just how much converged communications have changed the landscape for academia, bringing cost savings, new levels of robustness and unprecedented flexibility to a sector that, like so many others in Britain, was held back by the suffocating embrace of legacy telcos with their costly, sometimes fragile and always inflexible take-it-orleave- it offers.

The City of Glasgow College has 1,200 staff and offers more than 2,600 different courses to more than 32,500 full time, part time and distance learning students of some 135 nationalities.

Glasgow’s long heritage in shipping and shipbuilding is celebrated in a newly opened £66M campus on the River Clyde, which is training the next generation of marine engineers and ships’ crew. Continuing Scotland’s proud maritime history, the Riverside Campus aims to teach 10,000 students a year.

Although the site boasted stateof- the-art modern facilities, its communications relied on a legacy phone system based on ISDN and an ageing PBX that badly needed updating. At the same time ISDN’s rigid numbering scheme, which binds numbers to physical locations, did not suit the college’s need for flexibility.

SIP trunking over JANET

Value for money was a priority too, with ISDN line rentals and call charges not offering the best return.

The college also wanted to make more use of its high bandwidth Joint Academic NETwork (JANET) connection. Additionally it wanted to move to a converged network infrastructure with a view to improving connectivity and providing more resilience for vital services, together with laying a foundation for a telephony system that will eventually extend to some 3,000 extensions city-wide.

Having decided on SIP technology as the best way forward, the college was surprised by the lack of relevant knowledge and the uncompetitive pricing shown by some vendors it approached – until it spoke with Gamma and was offered SIP trunks at compelling prices along with use of Gamma’s pre-existing JANET interconnects.

Gamma provisioned SIP trunking over JANET to the college’s Cisco PBX, and ported over a block of some 40 numbers seamlessly and without fuss or disruption.

A separate, diversely routed fibre connection will, when added, provide robust connectivity back up. Resilience is further enhanced by the flexibility and instant controllability of SIP, allowing important phone numbers to be routed to alternative sites in the event of outages.

Savings on calls and rental

Meanwhile, in Newcastle, the Northumbrian educational establishment saw its relationship with Gamma deliver savings on calls and line rentals.

But the wins in the tie-up were so much more profound.

The university had a particular challenge with the annual recruitment round – most contacts to apply for places were by phone, and this huge spike in traffic asked serious questions of the legacy phone system.

Northumbria University has some 30,000 students and 3,000 staff teaching in 30 subjects, from arts, design and social sciences; engineering and environment; business and law; to the health and life sciences.

Among the alumni are the athletes Steve Cram and Victoria Pendleton, the Apple® iPod® and iMac® designer Jonathan Ive, and the musician Sting.

But the university is probably best known for its heritage in practical and vocational training, which helped create a generation of industrialists and business leaders, and which is now helping the region move into the knowledge and high technology industries.

It also has a thriving international student body and can boast that no fewer than 90% of its graduates are either in work or further study within six months of graduation.

Clearing

The university seasonal peak – the short time period when would-be students apply, mostly by telephone for places on courses, pitches universities in competition with each other, not only to offer the most compelling mixture of academic quality but of social life too.

It’s called clearing, and it lasts just three days, and it shows that A1 courses and a killer social scene mean nothing unless applicants can get through at the crucial time.

Without reliable comms during the three-day clearing window, student recruiting is severely restricted.

Gamma’s solution at Northumbria University was to combine access to JANET, bringing important resilience gains, with the provision of two 100 channel SIP trunks to deliver day-today service into an Alcatel-Lucent PBX.

The Gamma SIP-based core telephony system had already proven itself more than up to the clearing challenge several times. The university could not afford to lose valuable additional students during the clearing window.

But what if something went wrong, a building flooded or without power for example? 

Backing up the SIP-based system is Gamma’s Horizon cloud hosted telephony platform. Needing no onsite hardware beyond phone handsets or PC soft clients, Horizon is quick to provision, easy to make changes in the way calls are handled and routed, and is highly flexible in the way it operates. As a subscription-based service it is also an ideal contingency and business continuity solution.

At Northumbria, Horizon forms the heart of a temporary 100-seat colocated call centre, set up expressly to provide disaster recovery. A second, remote fallback facility is also available, offering a true belt and braces approach. Each has Horizon available for the crucial clearing period, the service then being scaled back until clearing comes around again.

At both Glasgow College and Northumbria University, Gamma’s role is a text-book example of how the robustness, flexibility and affordability of its services are helping academia not just survive, but to excel.

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