Nottingham Trent uni bets £1.6m on unified comms

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration...

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration...

Nottingham Trent University is replacing its legacy ISDX telephone system with a £1.6m Cisco unified comms (UC) network to foster closer collaboration between members of staff.

The university's IT director, David Swayne, told it opted to go IP in order to boost collaborative working and learning opportunities, initially among its staff but in future between staff and students as well.

Key to delivering better collaboration via UC is the 'presence' feature of the converged voice-and-data network, according to Swayne.

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"We will have the ability for people to see whether other colleagues are actually available - a) in attendance at the university and b) available based on indicators that will come up in their Outlook client. It will be possible for people to access their calendars on telephones so that they don't necessarily need to open up a PC window to see that. We have people who move around the campus quite a lot so that will be beneficial.

"If you're looking at an email message, you can see whether the person or the people involved in the email are available or not. You could instant message with them - you could instant message into a telephone call and then, maybe even while you're in that call, bring up a document or a presentation and discuss it, make changes, pass control from one person to another. So, pretty powerful stuff in terms of collaborative working and learning," he said.

But while staff will get the benefits as the system is rolled out, students will have to wait a bit longer - at least a year or more, as the network needs to be integrated with the university's virtual learning environment software and discussions with suppliers are only at a "very early" stage.

According to Swayne, the biggest challenge the university envisages in its switch to UC is "cultural change".

"I think the biggest challenge isn't the technology one, it's the one around how the technology can enable people to work differently and that being received as a potential benefit rather than a threat.

"We're not rushing the technology in front of people, we're very much doing it in a controlled way, showing people what the benefits are and approaching it very carefully."

"We've got around 3,000 members of staff so making sure each person has adequate training and understands what the functionality can do for them takes time," Swayne said.

Cisco was selected to supply the UC system as the university already had a Cisco network and was keen to stick with a single supplier.

The rollout started just before Christmas and is due to finish this time next year. Around 1,000 IP telephones have been deployed so far out of a final total of 3,500, while the process of deploying the UC software - which will enable more advanced functions such as presence - on the phones is just beginning.