VoIP needs in-house staff, warns school

Melbourne Grammar School's (MGS) IT director has warned organisations examining Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony not to underestimate the value of allocating in-house staff to the project. "Look to your in-house resources," MGS's Sue Lines warned her fellow IT managers at other organisations, commenting on lessons learnt during a recent VoIP rollout at the school which covered hundreds of people, including teachers and some students.

Melbourne Grammar School's (MGS) IT director has warned organisations examining Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony not to underestimate the value of allocating in-house staff to the project.

"Look to your in-house resources," MGS's Sue Lines warned her fellow IT managers at other organisations, commenting on lessons learnt during a recent VoIP rollout at the school which covered hundreds of people, including teachers and some students.

"If your staff are busy now, you need someone relieved to actually manage the implementation from an in-house perspective," she said in a recent interview with ZDNet Australia.

"There's no good pretending that you don't."

MGS's own Cisco-based VoIP project was overseen by systems integrator Dimension Data, but Lines still allocated significant resources from her own team, including one staff member dedicated solely to the project over the past 18 months.

The IT director pointed out high-level project managers like those that DiData supplied weren't going to carry out tasks like allocating extension numbers or setting policies governing usage of the system.

Other advice passed on included the need to stage the implementation rather than go for a big-bang replacement.

"We just don't have good success with the 'out with the old on Friday at 5pm and in with the new at 8am on Monday morning," said Lines.

"So for example we staged the technology by first going to our junior campus, which was the most poorly serviced and also has the youngest staff." MGS has around 1800 students in total of all ages up to year 12.

Lines summed up her recommendations as follows: "Staging, project team, lots of time and research making the decisions and lots of time in planning the actual rollout."

While the IT director's comments may seem like basic advice to old hands in the industry, with VoIP on the radar of most large organisations these days, keeping Lines' advice in mind could help some avoid costly disasters.

"I guess you could say that it was a significant project and it had to be successful," said Lines of her school's own effort.

The right time
According to Lines, MGS's move to VoIP came in response to the need to replace PABX technology that was reaching the end of its life, as well as the timely opportunity to converge the school's voice and data services.

MGS rolled out some 200 softphones and approximately 150 handsets over an 18-month period.

"We knew that if we replaced the PABXs with another round of PABX technology, then it would be 10 years before they would need upgrading and we would have any chance of integrating services," said Lines.

The VoIP implementation was carried out in tandem with the upgrade of the MGS backbone network hardware and wireless infrastructure.

This triple-punch combination has allowed MGS staff to use their laptops as their primary telephone device with the use of VoIP software or USB handsets, where previously some staff didn't even have their own phone.

"Whatever IT dollar we spend, we can't afford to do it in a one-off situation," said Lines. "We've got to build it into the loop so that each IT dollar is supporting the spend of another IT dollar."

The combination of Cisco and its biggest Australian reseller DiData also proved a good one for MGS.

"We had had good experience with DiData, and they came well-reputed," said Lines, also praising the depth and breadth of skills found in-house at Cisco.

One of the next big projects for Lines' department will be the construction of its new centralised information services building.

"It's going to bring together two traditional libraries," said Lines. "And add in a whole lot of digital media production suites and an experimental laboratory area."

The IT director added the school's information services would be brought together with its IT department and library staff. "We're putting that in at South Yarra," she said, noting the project had been in planning for several years.

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