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University's messaging system gets green light after red light woes

Everything went smoothly when the University of Miami deployed a 10,000 mailbox unified voice messaging system, until users wanted to tweak the message waiting light.

In the end, it all came down to that flashing red light.

In the roughly seven months it took the University of Miami to roll out its new unified voice messaging system, no one really considered that one of the users' biggest concerns would be the message waiting light.

"We didn't think that was going to be the most important thing," said Stewart Seruya, the university's chief security and network officer, assistant vice president.

Users of the roughly 10,000 voice mail boxes were really concerned about being sure the red light would flash and that it would disappear within seconds of listening to messages, whether it was over the phone, through a Web browser or through e-mail. Over time, the university was able to make the light vanish within 5 seconds, as opposed to the 30 seconds it took when the system was just days old.

But getting that 25-second difference was critical, time consuming and somewhat annoying. Seruya said it took a lot of time to adjust the system to get the light to fade as quickly as possible. The struggle prompted him to advise other early adopters considering the technology to "detail every single item as soon as possible … customize and test, test, test."

By not having to check for messages in different places, and by being able to access messages wherever they are, our employees are more responsive, thus more productive.
Stewart Seruya
Chief Security & Network OfficerUniversity of Miami
In July, the university's unified messaging system from Interactive Intelligence Inc. was ready to roll. Work started on the system in January. There is still some fine tuning and customization to be done, but for the most part it's up and running.

Seruya said several factors led the university to consider the new system: The 7-year-old Nortel legacy PBX was "at the end of life;" students wanted their own voice-mail boxes instead of sharing one box with their roommates; and staff at the university's two hospitals wanted find-me/follow-me capabilities where they can have their calls transferred to any device based on time, caller ID and situation. The university also wanted to decrease costs by using a VoIP and TDM hybrid.

The university's IT department looked at several options, including three of the major players in the VoIP space, but it chose Interactive Intelligence's Communité, a unified communication software.

"We selected Communité because of its many advanced applications … which could all be easily integrated to our multiple e-mail platforms," he said. "More importantly, [Communité] offered these advanced applications using a standards-based, single platform architecture for a 'choose-by-function' approach so we didn't incur the cost, complexity or 'silo effect' of deploying and maintaining multiple, disparate systems."

Seruya said Communité was friendly on all sides. It was easy for the telecom department to install and maintain, it is Microsoft friendly and is "about as idiot-proof as you can get."

The university uses the system to support about 10,000 voice mail boxes with unified messaging for university faculty and administrative, hospital and clinical staff. The system includes the ability to view and listen to messages through a Web browser.

And for applications running on the IP network, Communité uses built-in session initiation protocol (SIP), which allows the system to interoperate with various third-party e-mail systems, hardware and endpoints.

The team had to allocate ports on a legacy switch, prepare a series of servers and install some boxes from Intel that help a SIP VoIP system talk to a PBX. Aside from the Intel boxes, the implementation involved "skills we all had in-house," Seruya said.

"We went from purchase to completely cut over in seven months," he said, adding there were a few minor glitches, but "nothing terrible."

After the final decision was made, the university's systems administrators, engineers and customer service folks had an intensive seven days of training. That was followed by optional hour-long training sessions for users. Seruya estimated up to six training sessions were held each day for two weeks.

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The cost of the system, Seruya said, was inexpensive compared to others, though he wouldn't specify a dollar amount. He added, however, that the new system also boosts productivity, which cuts the bottom line. The find-me/follow-me feature and the ability to send and receive faxes through e-mail bump productivity, while the need for fewer fax machines and other equipment will save cash down the line.

All in all, the system has received more compliments than complaints. The complaints that dominated the list were lost or dropped messages and the need for different key strokes to access messages. The key strokes, Seruya said, can be customized. The dropped messages, he said, were also a problem with the old system, but now he can print a log that shows all calls in and out. In many cases of dropped messages, no message was ever left.

Otherwise, he said, the feedback has been positive. Users are catching on to being able to listen to voice mail through a Web browser or whatever e-mail system they use.

"By not having to check for messages in different places, and by being able to access messages wherever they are, our employees are more responsive, thus more productive," Seruya said.

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